LAHORE: Amid reports of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami Afforestation Project’ making international headlines, the Punjab government’s failure to launch new afforestation initiatives comes as a disappointment.
While the KP government is planting and restoring trees in 350,000 hectares of degraded forest landscapes of the province, the Punjab Forest Department faces an acute shortage of funds to launch similar afforestation projects, Pakistan Today has learnt.
According to reliable sources in the Punjab Forest Department, the Punjab government has not paid sufficient attention to forests and has failed to release the Rs 1 billion funds allocated for the purpose. “The Finance Department has not released the Rs 1 billion budget allocated for the conservation of forests in the last three years. Only one-third of the allocated funds have been released. How can we preserve forests with such meagre funds?” a conservation officer in the Punjab Forest Department complained.
He revealed that the Punjab government had invested all of its funds in the newly launched South Punjab Forest Company (SPFC), which focuses only on Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions. It does not have any more funds to invest in other forests’ conservation or plantation.
Sources also claimed that SPFC was launched to help feudal lords capture costly land in Punjab. They claimed that the scheme favoured industrialists and private investors by auctioning land at throwaway prices.
The Punjab government established SPFC in 2015 as a subsidiary of the Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries Department to ensure investors’ interests under the public-private partnership act 2014, and its purpose is apparently to reduce the burden on the forestry base of Punjab through reforestation activities in areas without previous tree cover. It covers five districts of South Punjab, which are Bahawalpur, D.G. Khan, Rajanpur, Rahim Yar Khan and Muzaffargarh. The SPFC has been given 99,077 acres of forest land in Bahawalpur and D.G. Khan Divisions with Member of National Assembly (MNA) Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, a prominent feudal lord of South Punjab, being appointed as chairman of the project.
Punjab Forest Department Central Region’s Chief Conservator of Forests Shabeer Ahmad Rana expressed his disappointment over the shortage of funds for forests conservation. He said that on average the department was given Rs 100 per annum for the conservation of trees in one acre of land. It is not possible to make forests secure with this budget, he said adding that Rs 15,000 per annum were required to preserve one acre of forest land.
He further said that the Karianwala and Mohlanwal Bela forests along river Ravi and the Changa Manga forest in Kasur were at a risk due to shortage of funds. The Forest Act was amended in 2010 while rules for the establishment of industrial plantation were set in 2013 with 25,000 acres of land being allocated for public-private partnership, he said. The department planned to bring investors for planting native species of tree like Acacia nilotica (Kikar), Populus euphratica (Bhan), Albizia lebbeck (Siris), Morus alba (Toot), Dalbergia sissoo (Shisham), Eucalyptus camaldulensis (Sufeda) and Sesbania bispinosa (Jantar), while industrialists were expected to bring in a wood-based industry. However, the plan was not implemented and the SPFC was established in its stead after MNA Awais Leghari convinced Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif about it, Rana said.
“Huge budgets have been given to the company while the department has not been given its funds,” he said.
It is pertinent to mention here that the KP government has invested US$ 123 million in funding its Billion Tree Tsunami project and will allocate an additional US$ 100 million to maintain it through June 2020.
Punjab has only 1.66 million acres of forest land in a total area of 50.96 million acres, and even that has deteriorated badly, with hardly a contribution to generating revenue.
Source Pakistan Today