The otherwise barren landscape of Diamer Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has literally turned over a new leaf because of a ‘mass plantation drive’ being carried out by residents.
However, this drive is not meant for gaining ecological benefits, instead, it is reportedly being carried out as a means to make money when the government finally doles out compensation for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
“This is sort of an investment which locals are making in the hope that these trees would be included in the compensation paid for their land,” said Ghulam Rasool, a resident of Bunar Valley situated along the Karakoram Highway.
The ‘plantation drive’ continues unchecked in areas from Chilas to Raikote Bridge, the area demarcated for Diamer-Bhasha Dam, ignoring a ban imposed by the government in 2007 under the Land Acquisition Act, 1984.
Both small and large pieces of land situated between Chilas to Raikote, including Gonar Farm, Bunar and Gaise, are dotted with saplings which have been planted recently.
Some residents have even purchased new lands and levelled them with the help of tractors while some have gone a step further and constructed houses on the land.
“This has become a trend in Diamer Valley and I’m afraid it will not be ending any time soon,” said Mujeebur Rahman, a resident of Gonar Farm. He added that in the hopes of making money, people are emulating others blindly and the increase in sapling plantation is one such example.
Making an observation on the trend, Shakeel Ahmed, a former employee of the NGO International Union for Conservation of Nature, remarked, “The desire for money has done what conservationists and NGOs failed to do in G-B for several decades.”
“We used to request people to plant more trees as they would protect them from natural calamities but no one would listen to our requests. Now they are feverishly planting trees even when the government has banned it,” said Ahmed.
However, it would seem that residents’ efforts will be in vain. According to Diamer Additional Deputy Commissioner Rehman Shah, compensation would only be paid as per the law and the land survey conducted in 2007.
“I don’t see any possibility that the fresh plantation or construction would be paid for,” said Shah. He reiterated that plantation and construction are banned in areas demarcated for the dam and the residents’ efforts would thus not bear fruit.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2014.