PESHAWAR: Even as the ruling party keeps claiming to have planted a billion trees across the province — a claim hotly contested by opposition parties, it seems that the government may be literally cutting itself short as trees planted under the project are being felled right under its nose.
According to a report by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), more than 13,000 private tree nurseries had been established across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) under Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Billion Tree Tsunami project.
The nurseries, IUCN noted, had helped boost local income, generate thousands of green jobs and empowered unemployed youth as well as women.
As the project continues with full steam, the government has planted thousands of trees on infertile lands located around the provincial capital in places such as Mattani, Garhi Chandan and Azakhel.
But, even as the government plants saplings, it seems that the timber mafia and not the environment has been the biggest beneficiary.
The project, it seems, has practically set up a free tree farm for the timber mafia to harvest.
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Some locals, though, have tried to stand up to the mafia members to stop forests from being erased.
Garhi Chandan used to be a barren stretch of land, located around 25 kilometres south of the provincial capital on the border of the tribal area of Frontier Region Peshawar.
At the height of the militancy in the province, it was considered to be a bastion of militants and had been declared as a red zone.
Criminal and terror activities in the area were routine and the administration could hardly be seen anywhere in the area. Even politicians thought twice before venturing there to hold a political rally or even a corner meeting.
Instead of drawing a large footfall of its human Tsunami, PTI Chairman Imran Khan thought better of it to populate it with something a little more pliant — and one which would not need a massive stage to be set up — trees.
And lo, sans terraforming, plans were set afoot to turn a once barren wasteland into a forest.
But just a year after the government planted thousands of trees after they had grown to be of some value, the timber mafia swept in.
Using modern cutting tools and a solitary pickup truck, members of the powerful mafia managed to cut down scores of trees and quickly leave the area before being noticed.
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The billion tree tsunami, after an audit, should thus find itself a few trees short.
With these trees symbolizing the continuity of life and a return to peaceful times, some locals took it upon themselves to stop the axe-wielders.
Although they could take on the mafia head on, but being small, they could take on the goliath nimbly.
Any time the pickup swung towards the forests, locals used their cellphones to record videos and take images and send them to those involved in protecting forests. They even wrote to the local police, urging them to take action against those involved.
According to the locals, some influential people are involved in felling trees in Garhi Chandan.
Locals stated that afforestation had turned the once barren land green. But with some people cutting down the trees, the ecology of the area was under threat.
“We are poor people and those involved [in cutting trees] are influential. We cannot stop them, but what we can do is to report the activity to the police,” a local told The Express Tribune.
The resident, who requested anonymity since it could result in serious consequences for them, said that the activity should stop.
He urged the provincial government to take immediate steps to crack down on illegal tree felling in the area.
When contacted, local police explained that they were being chopped down by the owner of the property.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2018.
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