The Sindh government’s recent announcement to allot 9,000 acres of forest land to the Army has re-ignited debate about the province’s forest land lease policy with civil society groups taking issue with the decision.
Of course, no one is saying that the soldiers should not be given compensation/reward for their sacrifices, especially in the present dangerous times.
The subject of concern is the nature of the land to be distributed. The Army had requested the provincial government back in 2001 for 35,521 acres to be distributed among the families of martyrs and the injured military personnel.
Presumably, the request from the GHQ did not include a specific mention of forest lands; hence, an appropriate alternative is likely to be acceptable.
The timing of the government decision to meet a 14-year-old request of the Army, meanwhile, has lent strength to the sceptics’ view that it is being done to make the soldiers look bad for taking over forest lands, and in the process justifying the plan to clear thousands of acres of wooded areas to establish sugarcane zones.
According to the Executive Director of a well-known NGO, Indus Development Foundation, Sindh has about 750,000 acres of riverine and in-land forests (excluding the mangroves) on paper. But in reality 90 percent of the forest area has been illegally occupied by powerful landlords. The percentage may be overstated; not completely incompatible with reality, though.
Furthermore, critics say the lease policy of 2005 encouraged influential people to destroy forests to acquire the land under them. If that was not bad enough the lease policy was later amended to reduce the plantation limit from 25 percent to 20 percent for the benefit of a certain class of people.
Gradually more and more forest land began to be put to other uses. The provincial government is now said to have acquired 25,000 acres of forest land in the Thatta and Dadu districts to establish sugarcane zones, with plans to do the same in Badin.
This must not happen at the expense of the province’s forest cover. No one should feel free to use the lease policy to turn the forests into agriculture farms. This short-sighted policy holds far-reaching repercussions for the environment, and consequently this country’s agrarian economy.
The importance of trees in offsetting the effects of greenhouse gas emissions is common knowledge. Yet instead of increasing, the forest cover has been decreasing at an alarming rate due to uncontrolled greed of timber mafias and land grabbers as well as population pressures.
UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that deforestation and forest degradation too make a substantial contribution, from 12 to 20 percent, to CO2 emissions. No one knows exactly the size of this country’s forest cover. While the government claims it to be 4.8 percent of the total land area; the World Bank puts it – based on a 2011 exercise – at 2.13 percent; the Food and Agriculture Organisation says it is just 2.2 percent.
What is clear is that our tree cover is far too scant. Provincial governments – with the exception of KPK which has banned routine logging, and vowed to plant a billion trees and increase forest area by 22 percent over the next three years – exhibit little interest in afforestation. That might change if forests are put on the concurrent list, like in India, so the centre and the provinces feel some pressure to maintain a good and sustained focus on the subject.
Source: Business Reporter