HYDERABAD: Sindh High Court’s Sukkur bench comprising Justice Aftab Ahmed Gorar and Justice Fahim Ahmed Siddiqui has directed the provincial chief secretary to approach the director general of Sindh Rangers with request to provide force to the forest department for getting forest lands vacated. The court asked for policing powers to be extended to the Rangers force deputed for the assistance of forest department.

The order was passed on April 14 on multiple identical petitions on the issue of encroachment and illegal allotment of forest lands in Sindh.

The bench ordered the Sukkur director general of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to scrutinise forest land across Sindh through its land revenue expert and submit a detailed report in the court.

NAB’s Sukkur chief should submit report about conduct of former chief conservator (riverine and inland) Aijaz Ahmed Nizamani, Sarfaraz Nizamani, Anwar Mahar, alleged frontman of forest minister Asghar Shah, Munawwar Shah and other encroachers on the next date of hearing.

Details about ex-chief conservator Aijaz Ahmed Nizamani and ‘influential encroacher’ Asghar Ali Shah sought from NAB

The CS was directed to get encroachments on forest lands removed and retain those vacated.

Commissioners of Sukkur, Hyderabad, Shaheed Benazirabad and Larkana divisions have been asked to reconcile the record and if duplicate record of forest lands was found in the name of private persons, the same be cancelled.

The Board of Revenue (BoR) member should submit his report on such duplicate record, the bench said.

Dr Abdul Jabbar Qazi, incumbent chief conservator forests (riverine & inland), submitted the progress report mentioning retrieval of 20,493.75 acres. According to it, 15,088.70 acres that had been allotted illegally are required to be cancelled by the BoR whereas 109,979.99 acres of land await mutation.

Dr Qazi was directed to continue demarcation process of forest lands through Survey of Pakistan, cancel balance entries and retrieve the same from unauthorised persons.

The additional advocate general sought time to approach the CS with request to the Sindh Rangers’ chief for provision of a force with policing powers. But the AAG appeared reluctant to file his comments in this regard.

The bench issued directives asking the Kotri Barrage chief engineer to be in attendance on the next date of hearing. Executive engineer of irrigation at Thatta was directed not to release water for encroachers in Thatta and Khipro forests. The Hyderabad Elective Supply Company (Hesco) chief was asked to appear in person on the next date of hearing to explain whether electricity was being supplied to encroachers. He was directed to stop power supply to encroachers in Hillaya forest.

Allegation against Rangers explained

During the previous hearing, Advocate Qazi Ali Athar had stated that Rangers had encroached/illegally occupied 6,900 acres of forest land in Garhi Yasin taluka of Shikarpur district and it had been in their possession since 2015. However, the chief conservator termed the lawyer’s allegation incorrect. He explained that Rangers had been in possession of forest officers’ bungalows in Shaheed Benazirabad district and two bungalows in Hyderabad for 30 years which were to be retrieved and handed over to the department.

The bench directed the CS to get the bungalows vacated by the Rangers.

Keti Shah forest

NAB’s special prosecutor filed his report stating that the record about Keti Shah forest was obtained from conservator afforestation circle, Sukkur. It showed that the notified 18,751.3 acres of reserved forest land had been mutated in forest department’s name. Three leases were granted for 75 acres in line with the agro forestry policy 2004-05 which were later cancelled but the lessees were not handing over their possession.

According to NAB, the range forest officer of Rohri approached anti-encroachment tribunal with a list of 44 encroachers of Keti Shah forest. They included brothers and cousins of Ali Anwar Mahar (alleged frontman of Forest Minister Nasir Shah) who have encroached 280 acres in the said forest. In response to NAB’s notice, Ali Anwar Mahar denied the allegation.

The NAB report suggested that Sarfaraz Nizamani, a resident of Tando Allahyar, encroached 4,771.2 acres of forest land. The record showed that only challans were issued in the wake of the 2004-05 agro forestry policy to lessees but forest department claimed that no record was available in its office. Thatta forest conservator did not receive auction documents for approval and no sanction order regarding Hillaya forest was issued by the chief conservator.

The NAB report further suggested that Sarfaraz Nizamani had paid challan for 20 acres in 2016 though the land was not part of the lease in compartment No. 21 of Hillaya forest. He grabbed the entire forest land and sublet it to farmers on a contract (mukata) basis. Farmers then grew a banana orchard whereas 675 acres were under encroachment.

Even after abrogation of the agro forestry policy 2004-05 by the apex court in 2018 and Sindh High Court’s Sukkur bench in 2019, forest land had been in possession of lessees since then.

The court asked why NAB’s report was silent in respect of ex-chief conservator forests Sindh Aijaz Ahmed Nizamani and Asghar Ali Shah. It directed the NAB director general to file detailed report on the next date of hearing.

It issued show-cause notice to the Tando Allahyar SSP for not producing Sarfaraz Nizamani and turning up himself. It directed the Hyderabad DIG to produce Sarfaraz Nizamani on the next hearing date failing which contempt proceedings could be initiated against the police officer.

The bench ordered the chief conservator to ensure that Sindh’s forest land was not leased out to anyone for agriculture purpose in any manner.

BoR senior member also submitted his report about mutation and illegal allotment. The bench directed him to cancel all illegal allotments and mutate the same in favour of forest department. He was also directed to remove all illegal private embankments and submit reports in court on the next hearing. He was also directed to desist from misusing/misinterpreting court orders in any manner.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2021

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