Islamabad -Civil society organizations in the federal capital have protested a timber movement policy for Diamer district in Gilgit-Baltistan(G-B) and decided to launch a campaign for the policy’s withdrawal.
The controversial policy, which was approved by former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf just a day before his term expired, has allowed the transportation of around four million cubic feet (cft) of legally and illegally cut timber from Diamer to others parts of Pakistan outside G-B.
The policy reversed a decades-old ban on timber movement from Diamer’s forests, which was originally enforced to curb deforestation in the area.
Environmentalists and civil society representatives believe the timber movement is likely to increase illegal logging because of weak enforcement and monitoring mechanisms.
On Friday, environmentalists and representatives of civil society organizations such as the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Akhtar Hameed Khan Resource Centre (AHKRC), Bio-Resource Research Centre (BRC) and Sarhad Awami Forestry Ittehad (SAFI) discussed the negative fallout of the timber movement approval in Islamabad.
Kanwar Muhammad Javed Iqbal, a senior researcher at SDPI, said there is no mechanism to precisely measure the four million cft of timber which would allow the local timber mafia to exploit the policy and export freshly cut illegal timber.
Iqbal said the policy has also jeopardized Pakistan’s international commitments regarding deforestation.
The policy was notified by the G-B council, which is headed by the sitting prime minister of Pakistan. The council did not consult with the Ministry of Climate Change before it made the decision. Activists have alleged that the council has vested interests in the illegal timber trade.
According to the policy, around 1.93 million cft of illegally cut timber would be sold in markets down country, provided the timber owners pay a fine to the forest authorities.
Chilas native Khan Muhammad Qureshi, who has been raising concerns about the Diamer policy in Islamabad since March, said the local timber mafia has already started illegal cutting of trees. He alleged that the local forest officers are conniving with the timber mafia to collect fines and start moving timber out of Diamer from May 1.
He said the youth in Chilas have risen up against the policy, but people in the area are unaware of the environmental effects of deforestation and most of them are involved in the timber trade themselves.
He said the timber mafia, which used to offer local communities just Rs25 per foot for illegally cut timber, is now offering them Rs60 per foot to pacify them. The open-market price for the same timber is around Rs3,500, Qureshi claimed.
Qureshi also brought the policy to the attention of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) senator Saleem Mandviwalla at a separate discussion about the PPP manifesto which was held at the SDPI office also on Friday.
“If we can undo it (the policy), even through the interim government, then we will get the policy withdrawn,” Mandviwalla said.
Qureshi said Mandviwalla promised him he would try to get the policy banned in the next three to four days.
On April 8, the secretary of the climate change ministry, Muhammad Ali Gardezi, had told the senate standing committee on climate change that he will forward a summary to the cabinet secretary to request that the policy be withdrawn.
“This deforestation is not just a problem for the local Chilas community,” Qureshi said. “It has repercussions for the entire country.”
Deforestation is directly linked with climate change because forests store carbon dioxide and protects against global warming. Deforestation also affects the natural habitat of animal and plant species and destroys the source of income for local communities from forest-based products.