Monday, November 15, 2010

ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICES : The ever-constant threats

The Murree Hills area is a perfect example of how the scions of the Houses of Gujrat and Raiwind have made merry with the devastation of vast forest areas.

Topical is the situation in the Hunza valley and the burial of the village of Attaabad. The world knew about the landslide that occurred on Jan 4 of this year when there was little flow in the Hunza river, and there has been speculation on various Internet sites by assorted international experts as to whether Pakistan reacted in timely manner. Twenty villagers lost their lives and countless more their homes.

As reported in the Pamir Times on Jan 7: “The children, women and men killed in the tragedy, and those still missing, could have been saved, had the state shown more interest than it did. But the governments of Pakistan, which rule this region, have better things to do, like milking its poor citizens through taxes, so that millions of dollars are generated for the world tours of its president, prime minister, ministers, their relatives and the higher ups of civil and military establishment.”

China experienced a landslide of similar proportions in May 2008, when the water flow was high. They only had one month to prepare a spillway (Pakistan had four months before the overtopping) and they pared down the block considerably. Reportedly, we used one shift rather than three shifts working for 24 hours. We used only bulldozers and excavators to move the debris over short distances, whereas had dumpers been utilised the debris could have been shifted downstream to help increase the resistance of the dam. The final outcome is fast unravelling.

We now move down a long way, to Sindh and what remains of the forests of this province. Pakistan has the second largest deforestation rate in the world. Less than 2.5 per cent of our land is forested and the annual deforestation rate stands at over one per cent. Sindh is a main sufferer, its forests being riverine, and such is the rate of deforestation, due to the rape and pillage by the members of all self-serving governments that have been in power that it has heavily contributed to the expansion of the country’s heat zone, to the reduced flow of the Indus and the shrinkage of the Indus delta.

Land grabbing is not confined to our cities alone, to the lucrative plots carved out — it is very much a part of rural life. The methodology of the scam is for the politicians in power and their influential wadera pals to acquire forested land under the pretence that it is being given to poor peasants for them to develop and earn an income. Of course, the list of names of the ‘poor’ — the usual widows, orphans, etc. — are bogus and in reality the areas are grabbed by the very few who wield influence.

An appeal has been made this month by the Indus Development Organisation (IDO) to various people who it thinks might help to come to the aid of the Khebrani Forest and the remaining forests of Sindh, all of which are under attack. The IDO has been instrumental in reforestation work on recovered land and the conservation of whatever land it has been able to save.

The provincial minister for forests Dr Zulfikar Mirza, could be of great assistance in this matter. His wife is the speaker of our National Assembly, over which she presides with competence, ignoring the vast number of alleged criminals it contains and the self-confessed cheats and crooks. Certain politicians apparently intend to lease out forest land to the ‘poor’ for five years during which, after they have uprooted all the trees the wood of which will be appropriated by local ‘influentials’ they will supposedly replant 25 per cent of the land with new trees. Some 750,000 acres of Sindh’s forest land is thus threatened.

Specifically targeted are the Khebrani and Raees Murad forests which stand on over 3,000 acres of land near Matyari and include a conservation area where a reduced wildlife population still exists. This will soon be wiped out as a member of the party in power has drawn up his list of ‘widows’ and other poor sufferers and is primed to clear up the forest.

The rooting up of trees commenced on May 13 when 300 acacia trees were targeted by cranes to be submitted to a chainsaw operation. The IDO sprang into action. It complained to the forest department which claimed helplessness as ‘high-ups’ were involved. It then organised a protest and a sit-in before the Hyderabad office of the chief conservator of forests who asked the tree-butcher to kindly desist, but he of course brought up political protection. The Hyderabad divisional forest officer proceeded to Khebrani and somehow stopped the crane from working — the 300 trees had by then been uprooted.

The trees must be saved. The Sindh forests secretary has reportedly signed papers handing over to the ‘poor’ 55,000 acres of forest land (including Khebrani and Raees Murad which are the sole models of community forestry) through which drinking water for Karachi passes.

Aijaz Nizamani, once chief conservator of forests, but now transferred to a neutral post as he opposed the destruction of the forests under his protection, is anxious to bring this matter to the notice of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry. The CJP’s plate may be somewhat full, but as he is capable of hearing the distressed, may we hope that he will hear the plight of a million trees of Sindh. A stay order would help, and Nizamani may be summoned to state his case.

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