CHITRAL: The 23 community watchers safeguarding the Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) have abandoned their duty over non-payment of salary for the last one year, as a result, poaching of the much-protected Kashmir markhor and chopping of deodar trees is going on without any check.

Spreading over an area of 7,777 hectares, the national park was notified in 1984 and it was upgraded by Global Environment Facility through World Bank in 2003.

At the end of the project, the custodian communities in 11 villages situated around the park were integrated into park management and a park management plan was put in place for sustainability of the conservation process and a joint endowment fund of Rs220 million was provided in 2009 for the CGNP and two other parks.

The endowment fund is managed by federal ministry of climate change through its specially-designed organisation, Fund for Protected Areas (FPA).

Hussain Ahmed, the former chairman of the umbrella organisation of the 11 village conservation committees of CGNP, alleged that a large-scale irregularity in the FPA created hurdles in the smooth functioning of the community conservation process of the national park.

Guards stop performing duty over salary issue

He said at the time of notification of the park, the population of Kashmir markhor area was about 200, but the community conservation had multiplied it to 3,000 and the national animal was now no more an endangered species.

Mr Ahmed said after the passage of 18th Amendment in the Constitution, the FPA had to be dissolved and the funds devolved to the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and the state of AJK.

He alleged a number of anomalies in the FPA composition and said the inspector general of forests (IGF) was its ex-officio chief executive drawing a salary of Rs70,000 and a board of directors headed by a chairman took all the decisions.

Mr Ahmed observed that the BoD chairman and the chief executive were always at loggerheads, thus delaying release of funds to the protected areas.

He said in 2009, the annual share of each protected area (Chitral, Machhiara and Hingol) was fixed at Rs8 million but it had now been curtailed by half without any reason.

Alamzeb Advocate, the incumbent chairman of the community organisation, said the communities around the park had totally surrendered their traditional rights and privileges for conservation purpose in lieu of the facilities under the agreement between the community and the government.

He said the government had failed to implement the agreement, forcing the local community to think about getting the national park denotified.

He said the only solution to the perennial issue of delay in release of funds was to devolve it to the office of the divisional forest officer of Chitral Gol wildlife division.

When contacted, the chief conservator of wildlife Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, refused to comment on the matter, saying he was suffering from Covid-19. He, however, said the release of funds was the domain of FPA based in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, on a tip-off the officials of wildlife department raided the house of a poacher in Washich village of Upper Chitral and recovered the meat preserved in his refrigerator along with the horn of a hunted ibex.

Range officer Booni Imtiaz said the accused confessed to his crime and begged for bargain of compensation which was acceded to under the KP Wildlife and Biodiversity Protection Act 2015.

He said another poacher of the village, however, succeeded in destroying the material evidence of his poaching from his house at the time of raid. He said a one kilogramme of the meat of an illegally-hunted ibex which was recovered from a pressure cooker was sent to the forensic laboratory in Islamabad and that action will be taken accordingly.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2020