KARACHI: The Sindh forest department on Tuesday issued a notification declaring the intertidal zone of Thatta and Sujawal districts, including the areas of Korangi and Phitti creek on which the islands of Bundal and Buddo exist, as protected forests.

On Feb 2, the provincial cabinet had decided to declare the islands of Bundal and Buddo off the coast of Karachi as protected forests on the orders of the Sindh High Court.

The court was hearing a petition that challenged the federal government’s authority of promulgating an ordinance over the islands that exist in the “exclusive territories of the province of Sindh” and called for protection of mangrove forests on multiple grounds.

“In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 29 of the Forest Act, 1927 and all other powers enabling the government in this behalf, and in supersession of all notification issued in this behalf, the Government of Sindh is pleased to declare the intertidal land (mangrove areas) of Thatta and Sujawal districts described in the following Schedule to be “Protected Forests” with immediate effect. The provision of Chapter IV of the said Act shall be applicable to it,” the notification dated Feb 15 stated.

Communities can do fishing in protected forests, but can’t cut trees; 200 Indus delta islands are now protected

According to the notification, an estimated area of 750,000 acres mapped through GIS (geographic information system) has been declared protected under two schedules of the Forest Act.

The area included in Schedule 1 starts from the boundary of Mirpur Sakro and moves towards Gharo, Ghaggar Phattak, Deh Pipri, area of Port Qasim, ending at the west boundary of Ibrahim Hydri.

The area falling under Schedule 2 starts from the Sir Creek border and includes areas in front of Jati taluka and surrounding areas of Shah Bandar before ending at Kharo Chann.

“The western boundary further follows the reference No: 22 (N 24 81215 E 67.306.727) and moves towards Deh Ibrahim Hyderi, reference No: 22 (N. 24.777469 E 67.126083). This particular portion of this notification encompasses the areas of Korangi and Phitti creek systems on which Bundal and Buddo islands are located,” the notification stated.

Levels of protected status

Asked whether the protected status now granted to the twin islands can save them from the prospects of any ‘development’ venture, a senior forest department pointed out that there was no question of federal intervention as these islands were located close to the land area and very much within the provincial limits extended up to 12 nautical miles from the coast.

“The provincial government, however, can take up a project but only after de-notifying the notification,” he said, adding that the two schedules had no effect on the protected status and meant only for description.

According to the official, 200 big and small islands of the Indus delta earlier in the “wasteland” category are now “protected forest”. There is no prohibition on human activities in the “wasteland” area.

“There are three levels of protected status; the first is protected forest followed by reserved area and the last is protected area, which prohibits all human intervention.

“The communities can only do fishing without government permission in the areas declared protected forest. They can’t cut trees but forest officials can allow them to pick up fallen branches and allocate a small area for camel grazing,” he explained.

It’s time to engage communities in mangrove conservation, he added.

Saeed-ul-Islam representing the World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan, however, believed that notifications would not matter unless the government implemented them in letter and spirit.

“The mangroves of the Indus delta are already protected under the Forest Act. What is needed is law’s implementation. Right now, mangrove forests in front of the Port Qasim area and Ibrahim Hyderi are being cut on a large scale. But, there is nobody to stop their destruction,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2022

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