KARAHCI - Contrary to what the PPP’s Sindh government has been claiming, data from the forest department says that a huge area of the forest is still encroached and abused by influential people of the province, The Nation has learnt.

According to officials of the forest department, currently 140, 827.1 acres area of land is still under encroachment of the influential people of the province. Officials say that the forest land is being used to build houses, farm houses while the timber was sold out to earn money.

The forests of the Sindh comprised of total 27, 85,000 acres area of land, of which 600,000 acres are riverine forests, 180,000 acres are irrigated forests, 700,000 of mangrove forests and 1,080,000 acres are range land forests.

The land has been encroached by influential people of concerned areas with the help of forest officers and guards, said an insider. They added that the encroachers have developed a liaison with political parties, who save them from action by the department. Adding to that, officials say that the forest department had planted new trees but the saplings were chopped down before they could grow in Thatta and other areas of the province.

The forest department is also facing an issue of demarcation especially in flood affected areas of the province. In such areas employees of the forest department are unaware of the limits of the forest in each Tehseels and union councils in the province.

The issue of encroachment has also been raised in the Sindh Assembly many times. It is expected that the issue will be raised again in the Sindh Assembly today (Monday) during question-hour to Forest and Wildlife Departments.

During the tenure of Dr Zulfiqar Mirza in 2008 as Home Minister, he had revealed before the Sindh Assembly that many political leaders belonging to opposition parties including Shirazi brothers in Thatta, PML-N leaders in Larkana, Dadu and other areas were involved in encroachment on the forest land. 

Forests and Wild Life Departments’ minister Gyan Chand Esrani said that under Section 26 of the Sindh Forest Act 1927 and under the Sindh Environment Protection Act 1997, all activities harming the environment, trees or biodiversity of the area were prohibited. He claimed that his department is taking steps by lodging cases against the culprits. He admitted the forest department’s employees’ involvement in chopping down trees as well as encroachment on the forest land, “many officers were suspended after they were found guilty of allowing illicit transit of wood,” he said. He said that seeking the help of the police and rangers to clear the encroached land in the province, the department would not spare anyone who was found guilty.

Meanwhile, environmental experts have termed deforestation in Sindh one of the reasons for flooding in 2010 and 2011 in the province, which destroyed Rs271 billion worth of agriculture output, besides damaging infrastructure of roads, buildings and bridges.

Out of more than 650,000 acres of forests in Sindh, no more than 15 percent were left in the katcha area as people have made permanent residences and are using the forest land for agriculture purpose, said social activist Zain Daudpoto, who is working to promote plantation of trees as well as to save the existing forests in the province.

He further said that according to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and an agreement on environment, Pakistan has to grow forests over more than six percent of its area, but currently, they are below one percent.