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Ex-PM’s parting gift to timber mafia

April 06, 2013

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Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. — File photo

ISLAMABAD, April 5: Just a day before the end of his government’s tenure, former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf allowed transportation of timber worth Rs8 billion from the Diamer district of Gilgit-Baltistan to the down country.

Since early 1990s, there was a ban on the movement of timber from Gilgit-Baltistan to other parts of the country to check deforestation in the region.

Because of the latest decision, however, the timber mafia has again started cutting woods in the region endangering not only the environment but also increasing the risk of silting in the Tarbela Dam which is fed by the River Indus.

According to documents available with Dawn, on March 15 a notification was issued by the Gilgit-Baltistan Secretariat in Islamabad, which stated: “The prime minister has approved the disposal of legally and illegally cut timber from Diamer to the down country.”

The transportation of the 2.07 million cubic feet legally extracted timber lying in various forests of Diamer has been allowed for transportation to down country as per an agreement between the government and the forest lessees.

“This is subject to permission to ensure that additional timber is not cut without approval of the competent authority.”

The notification further said the illegally cut timber measuring 1.93 million cubic feet shall be released only after imposing a fine of Rs700 per cubic foot for deodar, Rs570 for kail and Rs570 for fir/spruce.

However, 300,000 cubic feet of the wood will be used in Gilgit-Baltistan and for that the fine will be Rs200, Rs180 and Rs100 per cubic foot for deodar, kail and fir/spruce.

The chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan will monitor the whole process so as to ensure transparency. The process of disposal of the timber may be completed within four months.

Khan Mohammad Qureshi, a resident of Chilas in the Diamer district, told Dawn that the issuance of the notification was a conspiracy.

“The timber mafia in the area had started cutting the trees even before the issuance of the notification and is still cutting trees. Some influential groups and political personalities have been involved in the felling of the trees.”

He said the local administration was unable to take any action to stop the deforestation after the approval of the former prime minister.

He said the people of the region had expressed concerns over the illegal cutting of the trees and transportation of the timber out of the area.

They have called upon the chief justice of Pakistan to take a suo motu notice of the issue, he said.

Shabbir Abbasi, the representative of Aas welfare organisation, which is working for the protection of environment, said due to the deforestation incidences of floods had increased in the country.

“Because of the deforestation, silting in the Tarbela Dam will also increase and the country will further face energy crisis.

Even in Islamabad, deforestation is continuing because of the new housing societies but no one is taking action against it,” he said.

Professor Ameer Malik, an environmentalist, said international organisations like WWF and environment protection departments of the United Nations were concerned over environment hazards.

“We have to portray a positive image of Pakistan regarding environment issues because only that is how we can avoid any action or notice of international organisations because they are very sensitive about environment,” he said.