Road expansions along the Karakorum Highway (KKH) have taken a toll on the ecosystem of Abbottabad.
In clear violation of the environment protection laws, the National Highway Authority (NHA) have caused a loss of 1,900 trees along the highway, sources said on Friday. They maintained that the forest authorities also waived off Rs4.5 million of replanting charges to the NHA, without stating a reason.
The NHA was tasked to widen an 8-km strip of KKH from Muslimabad turn to Maangal in the revenue jurisdiction of Abbottabad during the fiscal year 2010-11. However, source said that the authority, without getting mandatory Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report from the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), carried out quarrying on the roadside.
The official record of the forest department suggests that the authority uprooted trees of different species from the protected forest land, the property of both Gallies Forest Division and Watershed Management Department Abbottabad.
The forest authorities, during the road widening, wrote a letter to the NHA but got no response. The NHA director was summoned in a meeting but failed to turn up. However, one of his representatives agreed in black and white that the authority must pay up the replanting charges at the rate of Rs2,500 per tree to the forest department.
The total charges were worked out as Rs4.5 million, which, despite several notices, the NHA failed to pay up. Instead, according to informed sources, the NHA requested the K-P Secretary Forest Syed Said Badshah Bukhari for waiver of charges, which he, through a letter sent to conservator forest Hazara and Watershed Management Department, waived off.
Though interestingly, he did not mention the reason as to why he was waiving off the charges that the department was held liable to pay up. When approached for comments, Bukhari’s personal secretary was unavailable, while a senior official of forest department confirmed the report adding that under the law, a construction company was supposed to pay the charges.
From these charges, fresh plantation is to be carried out at such places but the source seemed to be sceptical about the plantation on the road sides of affected areas.
Saira Awan, a PhD scholar from Hazara University Environment Science condemned the practice of robbing the highway of its natural resource of trees. She said that the forest was already facing extinction owing to merciless tree felling.
Javed Mian, another environmentalist said that without getting the EIA report, the expansion of a project was unlawful under the EPA 1997. “Since the road expansion has destroyed hundreds of trees from the hillocks, overlooking the highway, it could also cause land sliding on the road as the quarrying by NHA and tree felling have weakened the foundations of these hillocks and boulders,” he added. Moreover, he stressed the need of fresh plantation along the highway.
Presently, majority of Abbottabad’s forested area is denuded and only 29 per cent of forests support a density greater than 50 per cent. Meanwhile, the gap between use and regenerative capacity continues to widen.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2012.
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