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PESHAWAR: Ban on timber movement causes loss to national kitty, people

March 09, 2009

PESHAWAR, March 8 The ban imposed by the federal government on transportation of two million feet fine quality timber, dumped under the open sky in Kohistan district for a decade, to the market is causing huge monetary loss to the national kitty as well as the local communities.

Sources said that contractors had illegally chopped trees in Kohistan district and dumped it with the hope that government would sooner or later lift the ban on transportation of timber to the country's markets.

The NWFP government is reluctant to take decision in this regard and has constituted a cabinet committee headed by two senior ministers to find out solution to the problem. Minister for Environment Wajid Ali Khan told Dawn that committee had finalised its recommendations and the same would be put up before the cabinet very soon.

“The committee has suggested three proposals. It has urged the authorities to confiscate the timber, let it destroy and impose heavy fine to discourage timber mafia,” said the minister.

He said that only in Kohistan district a huge quantity of timber had been dumped illegally while there were reports that timber mafia had chopped 300,000 to 400,000 cubic feet timber in Malam Jaba in the troubled Swat district during insurgency. But his department had yet to obtain exact figures, he added.

MPA from Kohistan district Abdul Sattar Khan is in favour of relaxing ban to transport the dumped timber to the market. He said that two million cubic feet Deodar timbers had been dumped under the sky for the last one decade and now it had started decaying because of weather.

“We are in favour of one time relaxation to allow contractors to transport timber to the market,” said Mr Sattar. The ban, according to the PML-N lawmaker, is causing huge monetary losses to the provincial government and the local communities.

The government has declared all forests in Kohistan district and Malakand region protected, giving royalty to the local communities. Under the law out of the total receipts 80 per cent goes to the local communities as royalty and 20 per cent goes to the national exchequer.

“Our proposal is that government should impose up to Rs200 fine on per cubic foot and it can generate Rs400 million revenue for the provincial exchequer instead of mulling over making final decision,” he suggested.

Despite the fact that forest is provincial subject the federal government imposed ban on harvesting of trees and transportation of timbers in 1994 in an attempt to preserve the country's vanishing natural resources.

The NWFP Forest Department, communities and conservation groups have been opposing complete ban on harvest of trees. They believe that ban has caused losses rather than protecting forests and ask the centre to allow scientific harvesting to remove mature and windfall trees.

Mr Sattar said that government should review its decision keeping in view ground realities. He said that the ban had encouraged illegal harvesting in the region and it had been causing damage to the forests.

“Kohistan is one of the most backward districts and the local population has very limited opportunities for earning livelihood. If you stop these poor people from harvesting timber they might choose wrong path for feeding their children,” he said. On the other hand, he added, the provincial government also required funds and it could easily generate huge amount by relaxing ban.