Four years ago, the Sindh High Court (SHC) had struck down Sindh Chief Minister’s decision to allow plots in forest land to widows. The SHC bench had said: land reserved for cultivating forests could not be put to any other use. Now the same Chief Minister wants to give 9600 acres of forest land (in Garhi Yasin) to the army for agriculture purposes, on the premise that it is for martyrs’ families. Such is the misery that Machiavellian politics brings: the prince must survive at all costs.
Pakistan is already low on forest areas. According to the recently released World Bank’s Little Green Data Book 2015, forest area in Pakistan is 2.1 percent of its land area. In comparison, forest area in South Asian countries is 17.2 percent of land area, whereas the number is 27 percent in countries in lower middle-income group.
In the context of growing climate change risks that Pakistan faces, and the fact Pakistan is aiming for further economic growth and development, the figures from the World Bank reported cited earlier shows that forest areas need to be increased. Yet Pakistan is among those countries that have very high deforestation rate. For the uninitiated, deforestation is the permanent conversion of natural forest area to other uses, including shifting cultivation, permanent agriculture, ranching, settlements, and infrastructure development.
According to the Little Green Data Book, deforestation in Pakistan is at the rate of 2.2 percent as against 0.3 percent in peer countries in the lower middle-income group. Peer countries from South Asia have in fact been sensible enough to have negative deforestation at the rate of minus 0.3 percent, where negative numbers indicate an increase in forest areas.
Deforestation in Sind, which already has one of the lowest forest areas in the country, has been on a steady decline over the last two decades (See graph). Responding to BR Research’s query on Saturday Zain Daudpoto, Executive Director of Indus Development Organization (IDO), an organisation that looks at forestation along the Indus, said that Sindh had 750,000 acre of kacta, paaka forests till 1980s. “By now, 90 percent of that is gone.”
Daudpoto also referred back to SHC’s order on petition D-1666 of 2010, which (amongst other things) stated forest land of Sindh will not be converted in other status than forest; forest land will not be reduced regarding its acreage; and that Sindh government would secure the remaining forest cover from deforestation and forest land from encroachment for which GIS mapping would be conducted by Sindh government and made assessable to the public by putting on official website.
The moral of the story: Sindh government would do well to give some other land for political appeasement with the army, whereas the army would also do well to respect the law and refuse to take the forest land in question.