PESHAWAR: Taking notice of illegal construction activities being carried out in designated forests in Makhnial area of Haripur district and the purchase and sale of forestland for commercial purposes, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan has directed officials to immediately impose a ban on all types of construction activities in the area.
The chief minister, who chaired a high-level meeting here on Monday, also ordered the imposition of Section 144 to this effect and its strict implementation.
According to an official statement, the officials were asked to take strict action under Section 188 of the Pakistan Panel Code against those who violated Section.
Mr Mahmood ordered the immediate transfer of the relevant staff for negligence towards their duties.
Issues order for transfer of staff over negligence
Interestingly, sources said that an officer, who was charge-sheeted in three inquiries, was let off, while the officials, who had helped and conducted the inquiries, were transferred.
“Regrettably, two officials, who are in Grade 17 and Grade 16, and facilitated inquiry against the land grabbers, were apparently made scapegoat and transferred, and one of the prime suspects got off the hook,” said one official privy to the meeting.
He said that when the department was about to initiate disciplinary proceedings against a senior official of Abbottabad region in light of three inquiries in Makhnial, it could not be done as he had moved the high court’s Abbottabad bench, which ordered the maintaining of the status quo on the issue.
Another official said that ‘very influential people’ had purchased lands in Makhnial forests and they had acted very technically so that no legal action could be taken against them.
He said that the government had also involved the Survey of Pakistan for the demarcation of the forests, but the local people went to the court.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan recently took notice of the illegal construction activities in Makhnial area that prompted the provincial government to initiate action against encroachers,” he said, adding that massive concrete structure had been raised in the area.
The Makhnial forest sub-division remained a hub of official functions for the Billion Tree Tsunami, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government’s flagship afforestation project.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and other international dignitaries had visited Makhnial for plantation activities, but land encroachment in the designated Guzara forests went unnoticed.
The provincial government had constituted committee consisted of senior officers of the forest department in 2020 to conduct inquiry into the conversion of huge swathes of endangered forests in Makhnial Guzara forests adjacent to Islamabad’s Margalla Hills by land developers and builders.
The inquiry committee had fixed responsibility on senior officials of the forest department, who allegedly facilitated land developers to illegally cut down trees and encroached on the designated forests.
Encroachment in Makhnial forests was determined with the help of the Geographic Information System and field visits.
The official documents had revealed that land developers had illegally occupied around 15.75 hectares (38.92 acres) of forest covered area, besides illicit felling of conifer trees.
The committee has identified a total of six land developers, who have encroached on the designated forests in Makhnial.
A developer in the name of Capital Hill has approximately encroached on 2.6 hectares in Kotla Guzara forests, Haider Property on 0.45 hectares in Hariala, Haroon Private Land on 0.4 hectares in Nilan Bhotu Reserved forests, Highland Hotel New Property on 3.4 hectares in Kotla Guzara forests, New Monal on 8.5 hectares in Kotla Guzara forests and Zara Lodge on 0.4 hectares in Firozpur Reserve Forests.
The official statement said that CM Mahmood Khan asked the departments concerned to devise a strategy to ensure the preservation of Makhnial forests.
He directed the local government department to initiate strict action against the relevant tehsil municipal officer of Haripur overt the issuance of illegal NOCs for the construction of commercial buildings in Guzara forests of Makhnial and refer the case to the anti-corruption establishment for investigation.
The forum decided to carry out proper classification, zoning or demarcation of Makhnial forests and directed the Galyat Development Authority to complete the process within three months.
It also decided to constitute a commission consisting of senior officials of the forests department, revenue department and Galyat Development Authority for the demarcation or classification of Makhnial forests.
The forum decided to impose a ban on mutations and registries of lands in Makhnial forest areas until the completion of classification and demarcation of those forests.
In view of the potential threats to forests and environment in the areas, it also decided to cancel all leases of mining in Makhnial and Khanpur areas.
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2021