K-P mineral, tourism depts eye protected forest land

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PESHAWAR: The provincial government is hoping to remove protections provided for barren, ‘subsistence’ (guzara) forests in the province under the forest law to utilize this land for economic activity such as digging mines and using them for tourism purposes, government sources have said.

The move is apparently being pushed by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Mineral Development and Tourism departments who have been trying to persuade the K-P Forest Department to amend the K-P Forest Act.

The K-P Mineral Development Minister Dr Amjad Ali, while confirming the move said that the forest act has proven to be a major obstacle in the promotion of mining in the province since it prohibits any activity in areas declared as forests.

“The forest act is very strict. We cannot conduct any activity in areas protected under the forest act due to which precious minerals are lying unexplored and unutilised,” he told The Express Tribune.

“We have brought this issue to the notice of Khan sahib (Prime Minister Imran Khan),” he said, adding that the provincial tourism department too was running into problems due to the strict restrictions of the forest act.

“We want the forest department to make changes in the guzara forests
category, which are just barren mountains with
no trees, but the land cannot be touched owing to protection [provided under the law],” he explained.

When forests were reserved for government ownership and management — especially in the Hazara region — at the time of first settlement of land ownership in 1872, sizeable patches of wooded lands close to habitations  were  set  aside  to  meet  the  bona  fide  domestic  needs  (timber  for  building houses,  firewood, fodder) of the local communities. Such forests were designated as guzara or subsistence forests.

Dr Ali said that they want the restriction on these forests to be removed and the legal sections dealing it should be amended.

To a question whether the amendment would, in fact, contradict the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) much-trumpeted plantation drive, the Billion Tree Tsunami, the mines minister said that they wanted access to the barren lands of guzara forests.

He claimed that there were no trees in the guzara forests nor could trees be planted there owing to the land structure. He, however, did not specify which sections of land or where in the province were these barren guzara forests located.

In a recent handout issued by the K-P Information Department, Dr Ali was quoted telling a delegation of leaseholders at his office that the government was working on amending the forest act which would allow them to explore minerals in large areas of the province.

Moreover, the statement read that Dr Ali pointed to the keen interest Prime Minister Imran Khan was taking in the development of mining in K-P.

This was primarily hinged on the Rs30 billion per annum revenue potential for minerals mined in K-P. In this regard, the Chinese had expressed an interest in offering the latest machinery to the province which would help curtail as much as 70 per cent of wastage owing to prevalent blasting methods.

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