PESHAWAR: Even as people continue to die due to dust inhalation at stone crushing plants in the province, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government remains clueless about the legal status of such units, and mining in forests.
This was disclosed as the provincial chief secretary sought the legal opinion of the law department and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) advocate general during a January 25 meeting regarding stone crushing and mining operations in the province.
Especially in all the three types of forests which the government recognises including protected forests, reserved forests and ‘Guzara forests’ (sizeable patches of wooded lands close to habitations set aside to meet the bona fide domestic needs (timber for house construction, fuel, fodder) of the local communities but cannot be cut without government permission).
In their opinions, the K-P Advocate General and the K-P law department, stated stone crushing and mining in areas which are officially recognized as forests as illegal.
The K-P advocate general stated that both mining and stone crushing were illegal in all types of the forests under Section-26 and Section-33 of the Forest Ordinance 2002.
The written opinion — a copy which is available with The Express Tribune— stated the relevant clauses and sections on which the opinion was based.
Citing the forest ordinance 2002, which defines forests and bans activities such as mining and stone crushing, the advocate general stated, “Removal of any stone, rock or mineral and surface oil and all products of mines and quarries are prohibited in the reserved forest by section-26 of the Ordinance.”
It added that mining and stone crushing process is relatively the most lethal processes in the list of proscribed activities.
The opinion also declares as illegal stone crushing and mining in protected and guzara forests under Section-33 of the ordinance.
The K-P law department, in a letter sent to the K-P sectary mines and minerals, secretary industries and secretary forest, environment and wildlife department, stated that they endorse the opinion of the advocate general on the subject.
The issue came to light after the Supreme Court took a suo moto notice of stone crushing and mining in the Margalla Hills of Islamabad and sought a reply from the K-P government about illegal stone crushing and mining in the province since such activities were being conducted on the K-P side of the Margalla Hills.
The notice finally woke the government up on the issue which launched a drive against stone crushing across the province along with stopping mining in the forests— an activity which was under way for about three decades.
The K-P cabinet had also discussed the issue in its meetings and new rules were framed for stone crushers.
Ironically, the stone crushers against whom the government had launched an operation, had No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) from K-P’s environment department along with licences issued to them by the K-P industries department. The plots on which the activity was being carried out had been leased to them by the K-P mines and minerals department.
Impact on stone crushing industry, mining and construction project: After the apex courts intervention, stone crushing and mining mostly ground to a halt in K-P.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2018.