Says new bill will facilitate provincial govt to start converting reserve forest lands to other uses with total impunity
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan has strongly criticised The Punjab Forest (Amendment) Bill 2016 which, he said, had been hurriedly passed as a promulgated ordinance.
The PTI chief said that the forestry cover which was already low in all of Pakistan and particularly in Punjab was also fast diminishing every year. He said that this disastrous decline was due to the rapid encroachments and illegal conversion of forested lands which was going on unchecked in the province.
Khan said in his statement issued on Tuesday that since the 1990’s when the PML-N government first came into power, Punjab had been constantly losing its forests at an annual rate estimated at almost 3,000 hectares per year. He said that this was very alarming and should have been a cause of great concern. Khan added that the rapidly declining forests of Punjab were worsening the pollution situation in the province as was clear from the recent erratic climatic conditions. He said that the deforestation was also going against the global commitments that Pakistan had made in the COP21 accord on climate change with world powers.
He said that instead of taking measures to cope with the alarming situation, the rulers of Punjab had passed this new bill which would amend the law to allow the provincial government to start converting “reserve” forest lands to other uses with total impunity. These “reserve” forests of Punjab have been a sacred resource since the Forest act of 1927, passed by the British. Successive governments in Punjab have upheld the sanctity of these forests for almost 100 years due to the ecological and environmental value provided by these forests, he said.
Khan said that the incumbent Punjab government was actually taking this process in reverse and was hell bent on opening the floodgates of destruction for the remaining forests of Punjab by legalising encroachments on forested lands. The PTI chairman said that the “encroachment mafia” had become active in the province.
“It seems that the “loot sale” mentality of PML-N which has been evident in the privatisation drives of PIA and Steel Mills is now being applied for the destruction of forests,” Khan said, and added, “PTI will strongly oppose this utter madness and will raise its voice within and outside the provincial assembly as well as taking this issue to the courts if needed,” he said.
Khan also said that the Punjab government needed to take some “green” lessons in environmental protection and conservation from the KP government, which had launched the “Billion Tree Tsunami” project.
He said that under this initiative more than 300,000 hectares of degraded forests are being brought back to life and a billion new trees are being planted in contrast to Punjab where more than 40,000 hectares of standing forests have been lost already and more will be destroyed if this bill gets passed.
In KP, during the spring of 2016 alone, more than 250 million saplings are in the process of being planted, he said, and added that the initiative was bringing economic prosperity, green jobs and a healthy environment to the province and had also been acclaimed under the global “Bonn Challenge” agreement which was aimed at fighting global climate change.