While environmentalists cheer the cancellation of a timber transportation order that they claimed was leading to deforestation in Gilgit-Baltistan’s (G-B) Diamer district, local authorities said they are not even aware of the cancellation notification.
G-B Council Joint Secretary Muhammad Amjad Gondal on Monday said the council has not received any notification from the Prime Minister’s office about the cancellation of the timber movement policy for Diamer.
Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Secretary Shahidullah Baig refused to confirm or deny the new notification issued by the PM’s Office on July 5. Baig is also secretary of the G-B Council.
A copy of the notification, available with The Express Tribune, states that the prime minister, who is also the G-B Council chairman, has set aside a March 15 order for the disposal of timber lying in the forests of Diamer.
That controversial order — passed by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on his last day in office — had allowed the transportation of around 4 million cubic feet (cft) of legally and illegally cut timber from Diamer. The illegal timber was to be moved after paying a per cft fine that depended on the type of timber.
The deforestation in Chilas risks increasing silting in Tarbela Dam and also increase the country’s overall vulnerability to climate change-related events.
The latest notification, signed by Prime Minister’s Secretary Nasir Mahmood Khosa, also orders the implementation of an earlier Cabinet Division decision, according to which any illegal timber in the northern areas not transported by September 30, 2008, should be confiscated by the government.
The notification gave the G-B Council secretary one week to submit a report that incorporates the views of different stakeholders about the decision.
Both Baig and Gondal admitted that they had received instructions from the PM’s Office to prepare recommendations on the timber movement issue. They said the recommendations have been delayed because of other urgent assignments. A meeting to formulate these recommendations would be held by July 21 or 22, they said.
However, Federal minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Barjees Tahir had a different take on things.
Tahir said if any locals contact him with evidence about illegal felling or illegal movement of timber, he will push for action against violators. Some locals have alleged that freshly cut illegal timber is being transported despite the previous order being set aside.
G-B Chief Minister Mehdi Shah, the G-B Adviser on forests Aftab Haider and Chilas village elders have expressed outrage over the withdrawal of the timber movement policy, according to local media reports. They have said that the federal government should have consulted with the G-B Council and G-B government before taking the decision.
The forests in Diamer are owned by local village communities under the accession deal signed by the Government of Pakistan in 1952, but they are managed by the G-B Council. Some locals are riled up that the government is encroaching upon their rights by preventing them from moving the timber they own, according to local papers in G-B.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2013.
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