ISLAMABAD: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam on Sunday said negligence of previous governments and lack of ownership on their part over the last several years led to massive encroachments on the country’s resource-rich forest lands across the country.

Speaking at a media briefing, Mr Aslam said the previous regimes kept a criminal silence on these encroachments and avoided any punitive action against the land grabbing mafias.

“But now no stone will be left un-turned to recover the encroached forest land that has the potential to increase existing forest cover from 5pc to 8pc,” he said.

Malik Amin said the encroached lands, currently valued at Rs500 billion, had been converted into, among others, residential societies and commercial areas, causing irreversible environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and public health woes.

Says land worth Rs500bn converted into residential, commercial areas, pledges to reclaim 700,000 acres

He said under the cadastral mapping some 50,000 square kilometres of land was covered in the four federating units of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Balochistan and Sindh.

Spelling out details, he said in Punjab and KP around 160,000 acres of public or state land was encroached upon, adding that the most recent findings of the Survey of Pakistan had concluded that around 700,000 acres (2,833 sq km) of the forest land was currently under illegal occupation.

He further estimated that the encroached state land was highest in Sindh.

Sharing the digitised cadastral maps of state lands and encroachments, he announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan would share this data with the provinces for stringent action against land grabbers.

He told media that the maps belonging to Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan had been prepared by the Survey of Pakistan, whereas preparation of maps of encroached forest lands in Sindh had hit snags because of information delay from the provincial authorities.

According to one of the completed digital mapping, 10, 970 acres (71pc)of forest land in Benazirabad district, Sindh, was encroached out of the total 15, 450 acres whereas Takhtpari Forest in Rawalpindi had a total of 2,210 acres area out of which 755 acres, almost 34pc, was encroached, the PM’s aide said.

He said the Lohibher Forest area located at the fringes of Rawalpindi and Islamabad had over 57pc (629 acres) of its total 1,089 acres area devoured by land mafia.

Karachi Forest Division, which had already turned into a concrete jungle, originally had 2,703 square kilometres of forest area, which had now shrunk to only 0.4pc at the hands of the land grabbers.

He recalled that cadastral mapping was launched by the prime minister one-and-a-half years ago to launch punitive and impartial action against land encroachers.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2021

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