PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa forestry department on Monday informed the provincial assembly that the forests spread over an area of 815 acres were gutted in different fire incidents in the year 2019-20.
In a written reply submitted to the house about a question of Jamaat-i-Islami MPA from Bajaur district Sirajuddin, the forestry department said that 12 districts in northern KP had recorded 58 incidents of forest fires during 2019-20.
However, several opposition members challenged the number and insisted that the incidents were far more than what had been reported.
Speaker Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani chaired the session.
Opposition claims fire incidents underreported
According to the department, Buner district was the worst affected by forest blazes, where 19 such incidents were reported during the period and 289.5 acres of forests were reduced to ashes. Nowshera in the Peshawar forest division the destruction of forests over 155 acres of land by fire in two incidents.
The blazes destroyed forests over 126 acres at four sites in Madyan area of Swat district and 85 acres in Mardan in 13 incidents.
Also, Haripur district witnessed the forest losses over an area of 40 acres, Kohistan 27 acres, Abbottabad 24 acres, Swabi 35 acres, Bajaur 17 acres, Upper Dir 10 acres, Malakand five acres and Dir Kohistan one acre.
MPA Sirajuddin said the reported fire incidents were far less than what were actually taking place in the mountainous regions of the province.
PPP member Sanaullah moved a supplementary question on the issue and said the forest fire data was not correct as several sites in his constituency of Upper Dir district were destroyed by blazes but weren’t shown in the data submitted to the assembly.
He wondered what steps the department had taken to check the unabated destruction of forests.
Mian Nisar Gul of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal alleged that fire forests were not accidental and instead, they’re deliberately caused to hide corruption in the afforestation programme of the department.
He said that on one hand, the provincial government was planting saplings under the Billion Tree Tsunami afforestation programme but on the other, the forests were felling in different parts of the province.
MMA member from Chitral Hidayatur Rehman said that though many incidents of wildfire had been occurred in Chitral, not a single incident was pointed out in the information provided by the forestry department to the assembly.
PML-N lawmaker Aurangzeb Nalotha said that 60 per cent of his constituency comprised forests and the incidents of forest fires began after the launch of the Billion Tree Tsunami afforestation programme, and that the incidents were on the rise.
He said that the provincial government had failed to detect the causes of those fire incidents and take action against the culpable elements.
MPA Mir Kalam Khan of North Waziristan tribal district drew the house’s attention towards the illegal felling of forests in the merged tribal districts, especially North Waziristan, and demanded of the government to ensure an immediate halt to it.
He said that the afforestation programme of the provincial government wouldn’t bear fruit if the ruthless felling of forests continued.
“The environment department has been planting saplings on one hand but chopping down trees, which take decades to grow, on the other” he said.
The lawmaker said that minister for forestry and environment department Ishtiaq Urmar should have been present in the house as his department was under discussion in the session.
He said that in the absence of the forestry minister, other ministers could not satisfy the mover of the question.
Responding to the queries of the opposition members, labour minister Shaukat Yousafzai said that forest fires were a routine occurrence across the world.
“Fire incidents in KP should be stopped,” he said.
The minister said that the environment department had planned to plant more trees on the sites, which were destroyed by fires, in the upcoming spring season.
The speaker adjourned the session until Oct 18.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021