ISLAMABAD: Expressing disappointment over the casual approach towards the forestation and extension of the existing green cover in the country, the Supreme Court has highlighted the urgent need of taking the matter of vital national importance seriously.
In a nine-page order issued at a suo motu hearing that took place on December 1, a two-judge Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan observed that the extent of interest being taken by the respective forest and irrigation departments in the plantation of trees, saplings and forestation of the country was dismal and disappointing to say the least.
The court had taken up a suo motu notice of the pricing mechanism and management of water use in the country.
Orders Punjab to stop unapproved construction work, deforestation in Kallar Kahar
Forestation, reforestation and extension of the existing forest cover has vital importance for the country, its environment and our future generation, according to the SC that directed the federal and provincial governments and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) functionaries to take immediate and concrete steps.
The order noted that the bench during the hearing had questioned the relevant secretaries and Additional Advocate General (AAGs) present in the court regarding the contents of their reports and status of the steps taken by the provincial forestry departments for the implementation of an earlier direction.
The SC in its earlier direction had asked the provincial governments to come up with comprehensive strategies and plans for large-scale forestation in the riverine areas, canal banks, around lakes and other water bodies. Unfortunately, it noted, none of the secretaries had been able to furnish any credible and convincing information or data indicating that serious steps had been taken to undertake a systematic exercise of forestation across the country.
The order recalled that Climate Change Secretary Naheed Shah Durrani, who also holds charge of the federal government project of 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, claimed that in the first phase around 430 million plants/saplings had been planted in the four provinces in the riverine areas and canal banks etc. But on a court query regarding verification and confirmation of the claims made by the provincial forest and irrigation departments which were executing the projects, the secretary explained that for a third party verification, an international contract had been awarded to a company.
Additional AG for Punjab Qasim Chohan said 290 million trees/saplings had been planted in the province and plans were being prepared to review the depleting forest cover by also undertaking large-scale plantation in the natural forest at Chichawatni, Murree, Kahuta and protect and preserve natural growth at the same time, while curbing illegal cutting of trees. Besides, plans were being made to undertake wide-scale forestation in riverine areas and along canal banks, lakes and other water bodies in the province of the Punjab, he said.
Construction in Kallar Kahar
Asked about massive tree cutting and commercial activities by the housing societies that had led to large scale deforestation to clear the land in the Kallar Kahar area, Mr Chohan conceded that some of the activities might be without approvals and the construction work for the housing societies might have been initiated without necessary approvals of the competent authorities.
Considering that once environmental damage has been done, it would not be possible to restore the same, the court directed that all commercial activities including those of the housing societies and construction work being undertaken in these areas without the due approvals, permissions and NOCs be immediately stopped and no further deforestation or commercial/construction activities should take place in the areas of Kallar Kahar which had not been approved in accordance with the law by the competent authorities for the commercial or industrial areas till further orders.
The SC ordered that the local administration should ensure strict implementation of the directions, which the court office would also communicate to the Deputy Commissioner of Chakwal as well as Commissioner of Rawalpindi Division for compliance and implementation.
The court pointed out to Advocate General, Islamabad, Niazullah Khan Niazi that the tree plantation exercise undertaken in Islamabad areas was disorganized. Neither any systematic approach had been adopted regarding the species and quality of trees, the way they were planted and the aesthetics of highways on the sides which these trees were supposed to be planted nor had any steps been taken to improve air quality by finding viable ways to deal with allergen producing paper Mulberry trees, the court observed.
Despite the earlier orders issued in 2018, the bench regretted, no steps had been taken to deal with termites that afflicted more than 4,000 trees in and around Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2020