GILGIT: The Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Forest Department has decided to take strict action against the timber mafia and announced that all elements involved in the illegal cutting of trees would be sent to jail.
Astore Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Saleem said on Friday that individuals or institutions found guilty of illegally cutting trees in the area would be booked and sent to jail for at least three months.
He added that the Forest Department was utilising all available resources to protect and conserve the green cover.
“We have banned illegal cutting of forests and will register FIRs in police stations against timber smugglers. The accused would be sent to jails for at least three months besides imposition of heavy fines,” the DFO warned.
Green cover lost
Although national and international efforts are under way to curb illegal logging, local markets are flooded with timber from Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), resulting in massive deforestation in the absence of proper oversight.
Owing to the continuous felling of banned species including pine, kail and deodar, over the past 20 years, G-B has lost over 50 per cent of its forest cover, a top forest official said.
Interestingly, soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had banned felling and transportation of timber from G-B. But the ban has since been lifted after the intervention of the G-B Council and timber traders.
Though the forest in G-B’s Diamer District are technically owned by local communities under a deal they signed with the government in the 1950s, logging is managed by the G-B Council, which is chaired by the prime minster.
After receiving numerous complaints about ruthless logging, the forests inspector general had approached the federal cabinet in 2008 and former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz imposed conditional restrictions. Under those rules, timber traders could only shift 2.5 million cubic feet of the eight million felled during a six month grace period, but the local forest department failed to take possession of the excess wood.
From 2009 to 2013, illegal cutting and transportation of timber continued, and on March 15, 2013, former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, lifted the ban on movement of illegally felled timber from Diamer. (With additional input by APP)