GILGIT: Weeks after pictures emerged of hundreds of tree trunks flowing down the river near Gilgit, the regional administration has decided to launch a major crackdown against the timber mafia.
For the first time in decades, the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) administration on Tuesday confiscated timber worth billions of rupees in the Sai-Jaglote area of Gilgit.
The seized timber, estimated to be around 0.5 million cft, is currently being shifted to forest depots in the Parri area under strict supervision from the administration, police and forest officials.
While the logging in the area has been continuing since 1988, this is the first time action has been taken on it, a community elder said.
“But we will be keeping a close watch over the coming days to ensure no one benefits illegally from this.”
The pictures of dead wood flowing downriver had gone viral in social media, forcing the administration to step in.
Chief Secretary Dr Kazim Niaz, who was recently posted to G-B, himself visited the area to get firsthand information on the denuding.
“In an important meeting with department heads, he approved the operation,” said an insider who also attended the meeting.
While locals appreciated the crackdown, some elements linked with the mafia attempted to dislodge the shifting process by barricading roads leading to the hilly Gasho Lake and Pahote Nala – the two drains of Sai-Jaglote where the logging took place.
However, over subsequent days, at least 172 miscreants were booked under the anti-terror act while the roadblocks were cleared with escorts from heavy contingents of police, G-B Scouts and Rangers.
“There had been some resistance but it has now settled amicably,” said Assistant Commissioner (AC) Karimdad Chughtai, who was part of the operation along with police and forest officials.
“It is a historic time with regards to recovery and transportation of illegally cut timber in G-B,” Chughtai told The Express Tribune.
In an interesting development, the government has hired local communities for transporting the felled trees from the site down to the forest depot.
“Its an incentive for them, we pay them for their services,” the AC said, adding that it will take almost two months to completely shift half of the timber to the depots.
Last week the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had arrested four forests officials, including a former conservator, for their alleged role in the deforestation.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2017.