PTI govt’s flagship plantation drive on SC radar

Top court takes notice of 10 Billion Tree Tsunami programme; summons all data of the project


Aqeel Afzal December 01, 2020
PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD:

Expressing serious doubts about the PTI government’s claims, the top court has taken notice of its flagship 10 Billion Tree Tsunami project and summoned all its records including details of the funds so far spent and the satellite images of the areas where plantation drive is under way.

Hearing a case pertaining to plantation of trees along riverbanks and canals, a three-judge bench – headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed on Tuesday also ordered the Punjab government to stop all commercial activities on Kallar Kahar hills in Chakwal and to ensure reforestation of the area.   

The members of the bench observed that trees are apparently being planted on paper as what they actually have witnessed is massive deforestation in all parts of the country.

Plant for Pakistan, also known as 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, is a five-year project to plant 10 billion trees across Pakistan from 2018 to 2023. Prime Minister Imran Khan kicked off the drive on September 2, 2018 with approximately 1.5 million trees planted on the first day.

When the hearing started on Tuesday, the bench asked the Ministry of Climate Change secretary to immediately appear before it along with all the records of the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Project.

Appearing before the bench, the secretary said the government cultivated saplings in the first year of its rule. However, by now it has planted over 430 million trees across Pakistan.

“Half of the funds for the project are provided by the federal government while the remaining cost is borne by the respective province. The government is monitoring the project both through satellite footage as well as third party audits,” he said.

The CJ, while asking the secretary if he had seen the trees planted so far, observed that the claim to plant 430 million trees is unbelievable. The fate of the country would change, if the government planted so many trees,” he said.

The CJ said magistrates would be sent across the country to investigate the planting of 430 million trees.

Justice Ahsan said half of Pakistan appeared to be covered in forests on paper but in reality jungles are nowhere to be found.  He asked the ministry to submit a report as to how 430 million trees were procured and how they were taken care of.

When the secretary told the bench that it is the responsibility of the provinces to implement the project in their respective territories, the CJ said the provinces do not listen to the federal government anyway.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan, the other member of the bench, said there is no tree along the Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway. “You need to back up your claims with evidence. Are you conducting an audit of the project?”  he asked.

CJ Gulzar said trees are not to be found along any highway of the country.  “All trees on the mountains in the Kallar Kahar region have been razed and housing societies are being built in the area. The 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Project does not exist in Balochistan.”

He asked the Ministry of Climate Change to submit a report on the expenditure incurred on the project. He directed it to submit details as to where the trees were planted and who verified their plantation.

The bench also asked the Ministry of Climate Change to provide satellite images of the areas where plantation drive is undertaken as well as photographs of the new plantations.

Federal govt’s report

Earlier, the federal government submitted a report, stating it had allocated more than Rs125 billion for the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme. In the first phase – which would last for four years – some 3.29 billion saplings would be planted.

According to the plan, Rs109.38 billion would be spent on forest development and the provinces would fund the massive project with more than Rs38 billion.

To preserve the forest life, Rs15.59 billion would be granted, and Rs 210 million would be allocated for the payment of the “Green Pakistan Programme”.

Under the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, Rs26 billion and Rs27 billion would be used in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) provinces, respectively. Another Rs16 billion would be spent on the project in Balochistan. In Sindh, Rs5 billion would be used for tackling the effects of climate change.

A massive share of Rs33 billion would be granted to the programme in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

Sindh government’s performance

The court expressed annoyance over non submission of a report by the Sindh government.

“Where is the report? We have not summoned you to see your faces,” the CJ told the provincial government officials. “Sindh government officials have come to attend proceedings without any preparation like primary schoolchildren,” he added.

The court ordered the relevant authorities not to pay any travelling allowance and dearness allowance (TA/DA) to any official who came to appear before the apex court from the province. 

The CJ said if the official disregarded a court order in future, the bench would issue contempt notices to them. “After that they will not only lose their jobs but will also face incarceration,” he added.

Sindh secretary irrigation told the bench that the provincial government has planted 0.38 million trees along rivers and canals in Sindh. The CJ while asking the official to provide documentary evidence of this plantation observed that the affairs of Sindh government are beyond comprehension.

The court once again ordered the provincial government to plant trees along its lakes and highways.

The secretary irrigation said the federal government had not provided the province with funds under the project. “However, despite that the provincial government had planted 5million trees.”

Justice Ahsan observed that all the funds given to the province are misappropriated. The CJ also seconded this view and said no matter how much money one diverted toward the province, the people hardly got anything. “It is difficult for people to survive in the province then how will the trees survive?” he noted.

He said the Sindh government razed entire jungles for catching alleged robbers in katch areas. “The police could not catch even a kitten but jungles were destroyed.”

Justice Gulzar said it was the apex court which got trees planted along the rivers and canals in the province. “Where are the trees then which were planted under the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami?” he asked.

‘Arrogant ICT administration’

Lambasting the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration, the court asked where are the 5 million trees planted in the capital. “You probably have planted all these trees at Bani Gala,” the CJ observed. Bani Gala is the neighborhood where Prime Minister Imran Khan’s personal residence is located.

Justice Gulzar said the ICT administration is both arrogant and incompetent. “Trees are being razed in the federal capital while the trees that the administration has planted along the Kashmir Highway are stunted and irregular which look bad rather than beautifying the environment.”

The Capital Development Authority (CDA) director environment told the bench that no funds were provided to the CDA for plantation for the last 2 years.

Deforestation in K-P

The CJ said hundreds of thousands trees have been cut down in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and hill stations of Naran and Kaghan have become garbage dumps. The entire staff of the K-P Forest Department is not working properly, he observed.                

Justice Gulzar said there were no trees anywhere including Nathia Gali, Malam Jabba and Murree.  He also asked about the fate of the K-P's Billion Tree Tsunami Project. The K-P advocate general said around 7.3million trees had been planted in the province and there is plan to plant 39million more saplings.

No tree tsunami in Balochistan

Balochistan additional advocate general (AAG) said trees could not be planted in the province nowadays due to the winter season. The CJ said Quetta’s the Koh-e-Murdar should be revived by planting trees.      

Balochistan AAG said trees could not be planted on the Koh-e-Murdar due to its rocky nature. The CJ, however, rejected the claim and said once the mountains had trees.

Punjab report

Punjab forest secretary said trees are being planted on 25,000 kanals of land along canals in the province. The CJ said there was no use of the report submitted by the Punjab government and issued a contempt notice. 

The court directed the Punjab government to plant trees on the hills of Kallar Kahar. There would be no construction on all private and public areas in Kallar Kahar, it added. The bench summoned the planning secretary and all provincial forest secretaries at the next hearing as it adjourned the case for a month.

WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP

 

 

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