Forest Department way behind schedule

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The Punjab Forest Department’s scheme to enhance public-private cooperation for plantation lacks impetus as only one private chemical company has so far pumped about Rs 3 million, in addition with Rs 0.9 million for maintenance, in a pilot project running in Changa Manga since 2008. The Punjab Forest Department had set a target of increasing the forest cover by 5.5 percent in 2010 and 6 percent by 2015 in the Mid-Term Development Framework. Punjab has only 1 percent forest cover area and the target of 5 percent increase in plantation and forestation seems impossible to be achieved by 2015. Under this public-private project, about 100,000 trees were planted on 240-acre land during the last three years and the Forest Department’s target to increase forest cover land in the province with the private stakeholders seems unachievable. Talking to Pakistan Today, Punjab Forest Department Central Zone chief Malik Mehboob-ur-Rehman said, “Increasing one percent forest cover land required 6,000 cusec water, 500,000 acres of land and Rs 10 billion, therefore the target could not be achieved without the cooperation of the private sector. Presently, the department has only 90,000 acres of vacant land while the government owned resources were insufficient to achieve the target.”
He said further, “The Forest Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Engro Polymer Chemical Company in 2008 and according to this pact, the private company would give financial help to the department without any profit and in return the department would provide land and technical support to the company,” adding that, “The pilot project was important as its success could attract other industrialists to help the department for increasing forest cover land in the province.” He said the department held a meeting with the leading industrialists six months ago and both the stakeholders suggested their own terms and conditions for planting trees, adding that the department had submitted all the conditions in the office of the Forest secretary for approval.
Responding a question about the foreign aid, he said, “The Punjab Forest Department did not get a single penny from the foreign donors since the devolution of the federal forest ministry.”
Sara Aziz, the focal person of Engro Polymer Company told Pakistan Today, “The company had planted 50,000 saplings of different tree species, including Shisham, Jaman, Arjan, Amaltas, Kachnar and Kiker on 120-acre land in Changa Manga in 2008-2009 at a cost of Rs 1.3 million,” adding that, “48,000 saplings of Arjan, Berry, Jaman and Kiker were planted during 2009-2010 at a cost of Rs 1.6 million.”
Sara said further that the Engro Company had given Rs 2.7 million to the Forest Department for maintenance of saplings annually, during the last three years.
She said, “The Forest Department was responsible for planting and maintaining the trees. Engro’s idea of the Carbon Offset Project was based on the concept that through plantation, it would be possible to partially offset the greenhouse gases emission impact of our business. A tree, in its lifetime, absorbs 6.3 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide gas and produces 4.6 kg oxygen for the living beings, helps 30,000 litres of water to absorb in soil and sheds 53 kg leaves which increase the fertility of soil later.
However, criticising the role of the Forest Department, she said, “The theft of trees in Pakistan is a common crime and this was the responsibility of the department to take measures to ensure the safety of the trees,” adding that, “The department did not provide the company with prior information about the start of plantation season and the lack of cooperation is a big question in this regard.”
Responding to her allegation, Punjab Forest Department Central Zone chief Malik Mehboob-ur-Rehman said it was the responsibility of the chemical company to provide security guards for the safety of the trees as the department was bound only to provide land and technical support. He said, “The department did not have enough security guards to protect the saplings round the clock.” Kasur District Forest Officer (DFO) Muhammad Saleem said that the department had received maintenance instalment of Rs 0.9 million from Engro and this amount would be spent on the maintenance of the trees.