PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has set criteria for the utilisation of designated forest lands for construction of roads and water schemes in case of the unavailability of alternate land for the schemes.

The provincial cabinet recently approved a summary laying down certain criteria and standard operating procedures for the utilisation of protected, reserved as well as guzara forest land for purposes other than forestry, according to the official documents.

The cabinet decided that the forest department would give permission of any such utilisation of the forest land subject to the approved criteria or SOPs.

According to it, all requests for the use of forest land for other purpose should be accompanied with a certificate by the requesting department revealing that no alternate land or route or project is available for the purpose; the catchment area or population which will benefit from that initiative, and the financial and economic benefits in case of a strategic level project.

Notifies panel to process requests of departments for purpose

In light of the approval of the summary by the cabinet, the forestry, environment and wildlife department notified a four-member committee headed by the chief conservator of the forests central/southern forest region-I to process the request of the relevant department for road construction and use of water resources for drinking in the limits of the reserved, protected and guzara forests.

It also notified the term of references for the committee.

A notification said the requesting department will submit its request to the chairman of the committee and all such request of NOCs will be processed by the committee within 60 days of receiving a ‘complete’ request.

The recommendations of the committee will be sent to the administrative department, while the environment secretary will be the final authority for approval/decision.

Since the KP Forest Ordinance, 2002, prohibits all activities including road construction and other such activities in reserved/protected and guzara forests, unless the provincial cabinet approves a proposal and de-notifies as the specific forest covered area by the board of revenue as reserved forests.

Earlier, the KP government had passed the KP Tourism Authority for setting up integrated tourism zones across the province, where several crucial laws for the protection of forests, environment, wildlife and rivers will lose effect.

According to Section 20(2), after an area is declared as ITZ, at least seven pieces of legislation, including Forest Ordinance, 2002, River Protection Ordinance, 2002, Wildlife and Biodiversity Protection Act, 2015, Mines and Minerals Act, 2017, and KP Environmental Protection, 2014, will have no jurisdiction in the said area.

Sections 20(3) and (4) declared that after the authority issues a notification declaring an area ITZ, the said area would cease to be reserved forest or national park.

According to the official documents the cabinet had approved summary for setting criteria for utilisation of designated forest lands for other purposes after the matter came under discussion during a meeting between Chief Minister Mahmood Khan and parliamentarians in Dec 2020.

In the wake of the said meeting, it was decided to place a comprehensive case of general approval of the cabinet for permitting forestry, environment and wildlife department to approve permissions subject to fulfillment of certain criteria to minimise causation of disturbance to eco-system.

According to the summary request can be both for an NOC to change purpose of land (like roads and other infrastructure or to de-notification (like in mega project) shall be clearly mentioned in such NOC by the forest department and the land will continue to remain property of the forest department.

The document says in case of NOC, the government shall provide equal substitute land for forestry use, either on case-to-case basis or cumulatively, in the same ecological zone/nature and in contiguous form.

“This can also be in shape of funds to forest/private land and converting them into reserved forests. In case of de-notification, the government/organisation shall provide at least twice the piece of land, in the same ecological zone/nature and in contiguous form, as substitute land for forestry use and it, shall be declared as reserved forest.”

It can also be in the shape of funds to forest department for acquiring guzara forests/private land and converting them into reserved forest or any other land adjacent to existing forests or any other substitute.

After obtaining NOC the concerned department or organisation will pay the forest department expenditures on cutting to transportation of trees to the designated forest depot along with compensation and replanting charges as approved schedule rates. The ‘cut over material’ will be auctioned by the forest department and revenue so generated will be deposited in the Forest Development Fund’s account.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2022

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