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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Apr 20, 2013

Activists to campaign against timber policy

Civil
society organisations in the federal capital are protesting the new timber
movement policy for Diamer district in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and have decided
to launch a campaign to push for its 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 timber from Diamer to others parts of
Pakistan. Previously, timber movement was only allowed inside G-B, as a measure
to curb deforestation.

Further
increasing the threat of deforestation is the fact that the new policy also
allows illegally felled timber to be moved out of G-B.

Environmentalists
and civil society representatives believe timber movement is likely to increase
illegal logging because of weak enforcement and monitoring mechanisms.

On
Friday, environmentalists and representatives of civil society organisations
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 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 local
timber smugglers to exploit the policy and export fresh, illegally-cut timber.

Iqbal
said the policy has also jeopardised Pakistan’s international commitments
regarding deforestation.

The
policy was notified by the G-B Council, which is headed by the Prime Minister
of Pakistan. The council did not consult with the Climate Change Ministry
before issuing the order. Environmentalists have alleged that some members of
the council have 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 felling. 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 a “sizeable
number” are involved in the timber trade.

He
said timber smugglers, which used to offer local communities just Rs25 per foot
for illegally cut timber, are now offering Rs60 per foot to pacify them. The
open-market price for the same timber is around Rs3,500, Qureshi claimed.

On
April 8, Climate Change Secretary Muhammad Ali Gardezi 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.

“Deforestation
is not just a problem for the local Chilas community,” Qureshi said. “It has
repercussions for the entire country.”