ISLAMABAD: Almost two months after multiple corruption probes were launched against the Billion Tree Tsunami (BTT) project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday took notice of the federal government’s ambitious initiative, summoning the federal climate change secretary to submit all records of the project.
A two-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, while hearing a case pertaining to tree plantation on the banks of rivers and canals, wondered where the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration planted 500,000 trees as it had earlier said.
“You must have planted all the trees in Bani Gala,” the chief justice remarked in an apparent reference to the residence of Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Trees are being cut down in Islamabad. Crooked trees have been planted on Kashmir Highway. There is no beauty in the trees planted,” he said.
“There are no trees in Nathia Gali, Malam Jabba, and even Murree,” he remarked. Capital Development Authority (CDA) climate director said the organisation had not been properly funded for two years.
The federal cabinet in July last year approved Rs7.5 billion for the project with the government saying Pakistan required special attention to counter the impact of climate change.
The first phase of the project, it said later in September, would span four years and see the plantation of 3.29 billion saplings. In its original plan, the government had said Rs109.38 billion of the sum would be allocated for forest development, with provincial governments footing Rs38 billion of this bill.
Additionally, the government had also announced to allocate Rs15.59 billion to preserve wildlife and Rs210 million for the Green Pakistan Programme. At the time, it also highlighted the success of the BTT project by the KP government, which it said has also been acknowledged by international bodies.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the court issued contempt of court notices to the provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab over their failure to submit reports on their tree plantation projects.
The chief justice also scolded the Sindh government, ordering it to plant trees along lakes and highways. He said its affairs were “beyond comprehension” and they appeared to be “run differently” than the rest of the country.
He said that the government should not pay travel and “dearness” allowances to Sindh officials who appeared in court, adding if they continued to resist court orders, they could be found in contempt of court and sent to jail.
Addressing the KP Pakhtunkhwa environment secretary, Justice Gulzar accused his entire department of being thieves. “You are the head of that department; you should be sent to jail,” he said.
“Naran Kaghan has become a heap of garbage. There are no trees around lakes and thousands of trees have been cut down in Kumrat. I have seen the trees being cut down myself. No one should be allowed to cut them down,” he said.
The court directed the government to provide complete details of the funds spent on the project thus far, including records of expenditure and their justification, as well as the total count of trees planted along with photographic evidence and satellite imaging.