Gilgit-Baltistan: Ministry of Climate Change wants Revocation of Timber Policy in GB

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ISLAMABAD (ET): While conveying the reservations of environmentalists on the recently notified timber movement policy, the Ministry of Climate Change has forwarded a summary to the Cabinet Division secretary to revoke the policy.

The policy, which was notified by the G-B Council and approved by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on his final day in office, allows for the transportation of around four million cubic feet (cft) of timber from Diamer in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) to others parts of the country.

Environmentalists fear the policy will lead to rapid deforestation in Diamer. In the absence of strict and scientific mechanisms to monitor the illegal felling of timber, environmentalists say forest contractors will cut down more trees illegally to replace those already transported.

In an April meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, the ministry’s secretary Muhammad Ali Gardezi said that he would request the cabinet secretary to reverse the policy, citing the concerns of environmentalists and the risk presented to Pakistan’s international commitments on deforestation.

A ministry official requesting anonymity confirmed that the summary had been forwarded to the cabinet secretary and a reply from the Cabinet Division was expected soon.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations in Islamabad — such as the Sustainable Development Partnership Institute (SDPI), Akhtar Hameed Khan Resource Centre (AHKRC) and the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF) — have been campaigning against the harmful effects of the timber movement policy.

“This is a continuation of really poor governance on behalf of the government of Pakistan and the G-B government,” Dr Anisur Rahman, chief executive officer of the HWF, said. “It is a collaboration to denude our forests and take them to such a stage where they will not be recoverable.”

The HWF has also written a letter to the G-B Supreme Appellate Court asking it to take note of the policy’s effects. Rahman said that the HWF was also planning to send a similar letter to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Rahman said the timber policy gives little or no benefit to the local communities except destroying the forests and benefiting the contractors.

“If the timber is about to rot, it should be given to the local communities on cheap rates so that they do not have to cut more trees for firewood,” Rahman said.

“The forest that has been cut cannot be brought back,” he said. “It is a complete loss.”

It is worth noting here that the policy lifted a decades-old ban on the transportation of timber from Diamer to the rest of the country. In addition to the legally-cut timber, which locals claimed had begun to rot, the policy also stated that around 1.9 million cft of illegally cut timber could be transported down the country after contractors pay a fine that varies depending on the type of trees.

However, environmental activists allege that the corrupt forest officers and contractors will collude to cut more trees illegally and easily transport them outside the region because of the existing policy.

Chilas native Khan Muhammad Qureshi, who is trying to raise awareness about deforestation in Islamabad and Diamer, claims the contractors have raised the rates they pay locals for illegally cutting timber to Rs60 from Rs25 to pacify them, as Diamer forests are legally the property of the local communities.

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