PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has directed all relevant departments to crack down on illegal construction in Makhinal area of Haripur district and demarcate Guzara forests, where vast green land has been illegally occupied.

The forest department has also been told to act against its relevant employees over failure to check encroachment and construction in the forest area.

The report of a high-level inquiry into encroachment and felling of trees in designated forests has revealed that land developers and builders had illegally occupied around 15.75 hectares (38.92 acres) of land in Makhinal Guzara forests near Islamabad’s Margalla Hills, besides illicit cutting down green trees.

A letter issued by the chief secretary’s office asked the senior member of the Board of Revenue, forestry and environment secretary, and other relevant departments to determine territorial boundaries of stakeholders in Makhinal area with the assistance of the Survey of Pakistan to identify the agreed limits of Guzara forests.

Depts also told to check illegal construction

“All forest area shall accordingly be geo-tagged and clearly delineated,” it said.

The government had formed a three-member probe committee over reports of encroachment in Guzara forests.

The committee comprising senior forest officers in its report had confirmed that developers and builders had illegally occupied lands in Guzara forests and turned them into commercial and residential schemes. It said influential people, including family members of a senior officer in the province, had occupied forest covered area and raised concrete structure.

Officials said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Forest Ordinance, 2002, did not allow anybody to alter the use of forest lands, including Guzara forests, other than for the purpose of plantation.

The committee, in its report submitted to the chief secretary, had also found 26 senior officials and employees of the forest department to be facilitating land developers to cut down trees and encroach on forests.

The letter said the forest (environment) department shall simultaneously look into the allegations of encroachment and illegal utilisation of forest area, including Guzara forests, sale and purchase of land therein and unauthorised construction, if any, carried out within those forest areas.

Similarly, the Galyat Development Authority shall actualise further actions in consequences of notices served on all commercial property holders for stopping construction to take the matter to its logical end.

The government recently extended the jurisdiction of the GDA to the area to regulate construction.

Sources said officials of the relevant departments held first meeting in Abbottabad on Wednesday to resolve dispute between landowners and forest department and determine jurisdiction of Makhinal Guzara forests.

Commissioner of Hazara Division Riaz Mehsud chaired the meeting, which was also attended by three MPAs from Haripur and Abbottabad districts. The demarcation of Guzara forests and unauthorised construction in the area came under discussion.

“Much to my surprise that some senior functionaries in the meeting were very lenient with land developers, who have encroached upon forest lands,” said a source.

MPA Arshad Ayub, who attended the meeting, told Dawn that the limits of Makhinal Guzara forests hadn’t been marked since 1872 causing disputes between local communities and forest department. He said unauthorised construction in Makhinal area had destroyed forests and that he’d brought the issue to the notice of the chief minister around a year ago.

“Another Murree is in the making if unauthorised construction and commercial activities are not stopped in Makhinal,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2020