CDA plantation drive to begin after encroachment removal

Forest officials lament apathy of locals who spectate as forests burn

Our Correspondent July 17, 2019
Representational Image. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: The apex civic organization of the federal capital intends to reinstate the green belts of the city, launching a massive plantation drive after its current round of anti-encroachment operations ends.

This was disclosed by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) Chairman and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Chief Commissioner Amer Ali Ahmed during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Tuesday. The committee met in the Parliament House with committee chief Senator Sitara Ayaz in the chair.

In his briefing, the CDA chief gave an overview of the implementation of the Senate’s resolution passed on April 29 regarding “possession of land in Zone-I of the federal capital which had been earmarked as green belts in the city’s Master Plan and to plant trees on it, irrespective of its current status of development.

Ahmed added that that CDA is currently in the process of removing all illegal structures which have reduced the green cover of Islamabad. Moreover, he said that they plan to launch a plantation drive once their anti-encroachment operations are over.

The CDA chief further said that efforts to map forests in the federal capital will be completed soon which will help determine actual forest area and number of new saplings that need to be planted.

Senator Sameena Saeed noted that palm trees are being planted in the city which had no link to the local environment. She emphasised that local trees must be planted in the federal capital.

At this, Ahmed told the committee that they will plant local saplings during the monsoon season.

The committee sought a detailed briefing on the slums in the federal capital at its next meeting.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed presented a report of his subcommittee on issues of the federal capital.

Sayed said that he and sub-committee members Senator Samina Saeed and Senator Ali Khan Saif had conducted field visits to various nullahs (watercourses), the Sangjiani Landfill site and other places for compiling their report.

The report was adopted by the committee and forwarded to CDA chief for compliance.

Earlier, the standing committee expressed its concerns over repeated forest fires in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Murree and the Margalla Hills National Park.

Senator Ayaz noted that forest fires raged for three days in Murree, Margalla Hills and in some forests of K-P where centuries-old trees were burnt to a cinder.  She asked the forest department about the loss incurred, the mitigation measures taken and reasons behind such frequent incidents.

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K-P Chief Forest Conservator Azhar Ali Khan told the committee that the forest department was responsible for putting out fires erupting on state land only. He added that communal or private land-owners were responsible to deal with the fires occurring on their lands as per the law.

"Forest fires occurred this year have mainly affected 2,000 hectares (ha) of the enclosures spanning 91,000 hectares (ha) set up under the Billion Tree Afforestation Project (BTAP),” Azhar said, adding that plantation in these enclosures sprawls over 97,000ha area where only 800ha of trees have been damaged by the recent forest fires.

The chief conservator further elaborated that most of the fires erupted in the Chir forests of K-P where the tree drops pine needles on the ground which are highly flammable.

"It [pine needles] catch fire in the hot summer which helps remove growth at the bottom and encourages the revival of Chir plants for three years," he said.

However, he said that most private land-owners set their forest ablaze to get rid of the growth which jeopardises state forests as well.

"Under the forest laws, the local community is bound to assist the forest department while extinguishing the fire. But they merely behave as spectators during an incident,” Azhar said, noting that last year, the Forest Department lost seven officers to forest fires and that this year they have already lost two officers.

One reason for forest fires is irresponsible tourists who are camping at scenic spots in the province. Moreover, some rivals or miscreants who have been punished by the forest department for violations allegedly set forests ablaze, he underscored.

Rawalpindi Forest Division representative Ather Kharal said that in Murree Forest Division, 46,000 acres are state-owned while 168,000 acres were private or guzara forests.

"This year Rawalpindi has observed 46 degrees Celsius, one of the highest temperatures noted in summer,” Kharal said, adding that the monsoon season started at least 10 days late which caused a long, dry and hot spell in the region. This, he said, was the cause of frequent forest fires in the Murree Forest Division.

Forest officials regretted the poor conduct and indifferent attitudes of local communities during forest fires.

However, they appreciated Rescue 1122 for its prompt response to different forest fires despite the rugged topography and lack of resources.

The committee recommended forest departments maintain close coordination with provincial disaster management authorities for better resource mobilization to extinguish forest fires.

Climate Change Secretary Hassan Nasir Jamy proposed to devise a regulatory framework for forest fires in privately-owned forests.

Senator Ayaz asserted that planting trees was not enough to protect the environment and that it was imperative that trees and foliage are conserved while joint efforts are made in coordination with the national and provincial disaster management bodies.

She added that the committee will follow-up on this issue at its next meeting.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2019.

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