Top judge says forest departments facilitating timber mafia
Report by Zulqarnain Iqbal
“Where are all the trees you say you have planted? We can’t see them anywhere,” an irked Supreme Court asked all the provincial environment secretaries Wednesday in a hearing pertaining to the rapidly depleting forests in Pakistan.
Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed expressed annoyance and disappointment at the state of forests in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “All the trees in Swat, Kumrat, and Nathia Gali have been reduced to dust. People are building guest houses and hotels in the Margalla Hills. What are you doing? Watching them?”
The top judge’s anger increased tenfolds when the KP’s forest secretary failed to show up in court. “The forest department, itself, is running a timber mafia. Timber is being supplied at people’s doorsteps.”
How about we issue arrest warrants for officers of the forest department, Justice Ahmed said.
The environment secretary of the province, in an attempt to reassure the court, said that 190 million trees have been planted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan scoffed. “Don’t tell us things published in international publications. If this was true, the entire province would have been green right now,” he said. “All you guys do is throw seeds and wait for a miracle.”
The judge added that the court had summoned details of the 10 billion tree tsunami in the last hearing. “The reason for seeking those records was to see whether the trees were actually planted. Of all the provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is meant to have all these forests.”
The chief justice interrupted. “Why just KP? This is a problem in the entire country. You plant a sapling in Sindh and it’s eaten by goats within minutes.”
Here, the secretary of Sindh argued that Rs570 million have been spent on forestation on Sindh. “Under the 10 billion tree tsunami project, three billion trees are being planted in Sindh.”
But where are these trees? the top judge reiterated. “If you take the Karachi to Thatta route, you will see encroachments built on forest land. The same is the case with Balochistan. All the trees in Ziarat are being burnt.”
To this, the secretary of Balochistan said that a number of projects are underway in the province. “We are working on forestation projects for the Karachi-Gwadar coastal highway,” he added.
Consequently, the court instructed the secretaries to provide reports on forestation projects in their respective provinces within a month and adjourned the hearing for a month.