Cutting of forests & law of the jungle
By Dj Mathal
THE scenic land of Gilgit-Baltistan is fast denuding of its greenery. Due to rampant poverty and unemployment coupled with the ever rising inflation, the local residents have no other option but to fell trees for use as fuel. Besides, the timber mafia is continuing without any check to cut trees and smuggle them to the lucrative markets in Pakistani cities in collusion with the authorities concerned. The whole Diammer district including the Darel-Tangir valley which contains about 80 per cent of the forest cover in the region is being deprived of the natural forest cover. Every year, announcements are made about planting of millions of saplings in the region but nobody knows where these plants go and where they have been planted. The forest department has no answer to the question that where the billions of saplings planted during the last one decade or so had gone. It is reported that the federal government provides millions of rupees to the department to plant trees every year and an equal amount of money is also earmarked for their upkeep every year but strangely these funds also go down the drain like the new plants.
Small forests in various parts of Gilgit-Baltistan have gradually disappeared. The situation in Astore and Hunza-Nagar is even more pathetic. In the districts of Ghizer, Skardu and Ghanche, today even we do not find a green swath of land and the areas present a Chloistan-like picture.
It is ironic that the resources of Gilgit-Baltistan are being openly looted. Unbridled cutting of trees is on the one hand a threat to environment and on the other it leads to destruction of the precious natural resource. If there is no greenery how we can attract tourists to the region. It is the prime responsibility of the forest department to protect and preserve the forest of the region. Instead of making tall claims of planting millions of saplings every year, if we add about 30,000 to 40,000 new saplings every year and then protect them judiciously, the region’s forest cover would see a phenomenal increase within no time. The only guarantee for success of such a program is sincerity of intention in making such a national program work. Special emphasize is needed to concentrate on planting trees along the banks of rivers and streams but here the situation has been just the opposite. The department of forest and NAPWD have become a hub of corruption.
It is strange that the government every year provides saplings for plantation during the spring campaigns and also provides funds for the purpose but never takes a follow-up on the fate of the planted trees in the region. This means that those pocketing the money allocated for tree plantations understand that they would go scot-free and never have to answer to anyone. It is for sure that if genuine accountability was carried out and investigation conducted into the embezzlement of funds during the tree plantations drives alone, many heads will roll and many faces would be unmasked. We consider it a serious crime that never ever there has been a single enquiry report about the issue made public. Even no authority has ever looked into such reports neither recommendations made in this regard were given a serious thought.
Non-local bureaucracy occupying key posts in Gilgit-Baltistan has no concerns how the natural resources of the region are being plundered neither there is any avenue for the people from where they can get justice. Even the courts of the area are manned by outsider judges. Alas this region ahs become the breeding ground of alien officers to fill their pockets. Even more painful is the fact that whenever the local officers are appointed on some key posts, they too opt for the easy way out of depending on the outsiders for their personal benefit.
NALA has recently passed a bill making room for non-local lawyers to become the judges of the apex court of the region. In a situation when the non-local chief secretary is the source of all powers and the judiciary is also headed by outsiders, does provision of justice in the region become possible?
Tree plantation or any other campaign, no effort can achieve its desired results until and unless the area gets rid of non-local masters. First of all, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan should have to be united as one nation in order to ensure protection of their own interests and this cannot be possible without an independent entity for the region.