RAWALPINDI: With visions of smoke rising from the Margalla Hills due to a massive wildfire last year yet to be flushed from memory, emergency services in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi remain ill-equipped to tackle any blaze in the forests.
The forest department, though, claims to have devised a comprehensive plan to tackle any wildfire on the hills. South Forest Division Chief Forest Officer Saqib Mahmood Sheikh stated that a “fire season” for the forests in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi will commence from April 15. The season will last until July 15.
Speaking to Daily Express, he conceded that the firefighting, rescue services and forest departments in the twin cities lacked adequate equipment, a sufficient number of forest guards, the absence of vehicles for forest officials to get around the forests and an acute shortage of resources.
Despite these issues, he said that they have devised a new master rescue plan, especially for the forests in the Margalla Hills National Park, to protect its flora and fauna from wildfires.
Under the plan, Sheikh explained, they intend to depute armed forest guards at all entrance and exit routes of the forest, including smuggler’s trails, fenced sections and official entrances of forests in the entire division including in the Margalla Hills, Murree and Kotli Sattiyan.
These armed guards will also patrol the forest at night. To aid them, floodlights will be set up at key locations in the forest which will serve as rescue hubs in the event of a wildfire. Suggesting that most fire incidents were the result of man’s intervention in nature, the chief forest officer said that they have decided to impose a precautionary ban on taking matches, fuel, cigarette lighters, saw, knives, and axes into the forests.
Further, he said that they are working on making arrangements for quick responses to any fires which erupt in the forest. In this regard, he said that they have equipped their staff with wireless radios and mobile sets to communicate with other teams in the event of a fire.
The chief forest officer further said that they will crackdown against those who hunt animals in the forests.
To repair some of the damage wrought by the massive wildfires in the Margalla Hills and other forests of the division last year, he said that they will plant some 500,000 trees during the ongoing plantation drive in the jungles of the twin cities.
Forest land recovered
The Rawalpindi Forest Department on Thursday recovered around 3,736 kanals of land which had been allegedly illegally occupied by an influential group of land grabbers for the past 30 years.
After recovering the land, the forest department put up signs stating that it was state land. Moreover, as many as 65,000 plants were spudded on these lands. Further saplings will also be planted on the recovered land.
To protect the land against land grabbers in the future, the forest department has decided to permanently depute forest guards over this land and a check post has been set up. The land was recovered in the Tamir forest and its adjoining areas during a massive operation. Sheikh told Daily Express that the Punjab government and the forest ministry secretary have strictly directed to retrieve occupied forest land through force.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2019.