Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam being briefed on the felling of trees. The other picture shows tree stumps visible on the land near Govt Degree College Kotli Sattian. — Photo by the writer
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam being briefed on the felling of trees. The other picture shows tree stumps visible on the land near Govt Degree College Kotli Sattian. — Photo by the writer

MURREE: The recent felling of more than 80 grown trees near the Government Degree College in Kotli Sattian allegedly by the owner of the land where they stood has led to protests by locals as well as a visit by the adviser to the prime minister on climate change.

On Monday, the Punjab forest secretary also suspended a sub-divisional forest officer (SDFO)and regional forest officer (RFO) (guzara jaat) and ordered an investigation into the incident.

Although more than 70 FIRs have been registered against locals over the felling of trees in Kotli Sattian and Murree, Kohsar Development Trust Chairman Tabbasam Munir Satti told Dawn this time around the forests department has refused to act on the basis of a 2015 Lahore High Court (LHC) decision.

According to Mr Satti, the LHC decision only pertains to dried trees in the guzara land, not green trees. He added that police have registered a case on the application of the forest department which said felling green trees was a crime under the law.

Following protests by locals against the chopping of more than 80 trees, retired Brig Javed Satti, who has been involved in environmental protection for some time, met MNA Sadaqat Ali Abbasi to convey locals’ concerns regarding the felling of the trees.

Adviser to PM visits site, orders inquiry; two forest department officials suspended

Mr Abbasi then met with the district administration, and it was at his recommendation that the Rawalpindi commissioner issued a directive banning the cutting down of any tree in any type of forest in the area, according to a press release issued by the MNA.

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam also visited the site at the request of the Kohsar Development Trust on March 9.

Accompanied by the deputy commissioner, assistant commissioner, forest department officials and press, Mr Aslam examined the felled trees and received a detailed briefing from local media and residents about the incident.

He ordered the formation of a four-member committee led by the Rawalpindi deputy commissioner to investigate the issue. He said legal action would be taken against those involved in cutting down green trees and no one would be allowed to hurt the Clean and Green programme.

When contacted, Guzara SDFO Javed Abbasi, who was suspended on Monday for 90 days, said in 2015, the LHC decided that trees on personal land could be felled for the owner’s needs, which was why the department had not been able to act.

But, he added, now the Rawalpindi commissioner has banned the cutting of any kind of green trees in Murree, Kotli Sattian and Kahuta town and ordered the concerned departments to take action against it.

RFO Mohammad Iftikhar was also suspended.

On Tuesday, Kotli Sattian police identified a large amount of chopped wood from a private woodcutting saw in Kahuti and sealed the machine workshop.

He said it was not clear who owned the land on which the trees had stood.

Locals including Tabassam Satti, journalist Tayyaba Naz Kazmi and Shaukat Mehmood told Dawn that pine trees take 80 to 100 years to grow and are an essential part of the region’s ecology because they prevent landslides.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2020