The federal government has withdrawn a controversial timber policy for Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), which was approved by former prime minister Pervaiz Ashraf just a day before the end of his tenure, allowing transportation of timber worth billions of rupees from Diamer district to other parts of the country.
Sources in the Climate Change Division confirmed to The Express Tribune on Monday that they had received a notification from the PM office, dated July 5, withdrawing the timber movement policy and called for recommendations from the G-B Council as well as the division for further action.
Environmentalists and local people have welcomed the move as a much-needed step.
The disastrous policy triggered a strong reaction from environmentalists and local people, who had protested against it ever since it was notified on March 15.
The policy had allowed the transportation of around 4 million cubic feet (cft) — 2.078mcft legally extracted and 1.936mcft illegally extracted — of timber worth Rs8 billion from Diamer to other parts of the country.
Environmental activists claimed the policy had given a free hand to the timber mafia to chop new trees illegally and transport them down country in the guise of old timber. They had protested that the policy would cause massive deforestation in Diamer.
The final push to reverse the policy seemed to have come from a June 28 National Assembly attention call notice by Maryam Aurangzeb and Junaid Anwaar Chaudhry, of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), about its alleged misuse.
National Assembly Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi had ordered the government to form an inter-ministerial inquiry committee to look into the issue.
A summary to withdraw the policy, which was moved to the Cabinet Division by the Climate Change Division at the end of April, on the direction of the then Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change chairman Senator Saeeda Iqbal of the Pakistan Peoples Party, also appeared to play a part in the July 5 order.
As news about the policy withdrawal emerged on Monday, environmental activists started circulating text messages of congratulations.
Khan Muhammad Qureshi, a native who had rallied some support for the cause both in Chilas and Islamabad, said it was a success for the community.
Fayyaz Baqir, Director of the Akhtar Hameed Khan Resource Centre, said the move was in the best interest of the nation.
“A huge quantity of freshly cut timber has been transported since March,” he claimed.
“There should be a stern action against deforestation because our forests have thinned to dangerous levels.”
Environmentalists said the government should do something about the timber that has been cut illegally and transported from Diamer during the past few months. They also suggested that a focal agency should be established to monitor inter-provincial timber movement.
At present, forestry is a provincial issue and there is no organisation with a constitutional mandate to honour Pakistan’s international commitments on preventing deforestation.
Despite a ban on the movement of timber from G-B to other parts of the country timber mafia has been felling trees in Diamer district in connivance with the bureaucracy, influential persons and political personalities.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2013.