KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) suspended on Thursday the operation of the provincial government's administrative order to lease out more than 16,000 acres of forest land for cultivation purposes in different districts.
A division bench, headed by Justice Munib Akhtar, passed the interim order on a petition against the government's policy of leasing out the forest land for cultivation. Syed Ayaz Ali Shah Shirazi, a lawmaker from the area, had taken the forest department secretary, the conservator of forests, the district government and the police officials to court. He told the two judges that the chief minister has given his consent to a summary to lease out 16,800 acres to Badin Agro Development Farm, under the Agro Forestry Lease Policy of the Sindh forest department for agricultural and fish farming. Subsequently, the chief conservator issued a letter on May 30 to this effect.
"To execute the policy, the status of the subject 16,800 acres land has been changed from forest to agricultural," said Shirazi's lawyer, Murad Ali Shah. He pointed out that, under this policy, the land meant for flora can be allotted to any individual for five years.
The lawyer recalled that the provincial government has already leased out 6,500 acres meant for the forests to a private company. The petitioner apprehends that the 16,800 acres land would also be leased out to the 'favourite persons', he claimed.
Under the relevant laws, the land meant for forests cannot be handed over to the revenue department, as it would lead to depletion of the forest cover, the lawyer said. He pleaded the court declare the government's policy of leasing out the forest land for other purposes than it was originally allocated as illegal. The bench issued notices to the respondents to file their comments by August 16. Till then, the operation of the leasing letter was suspended.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.