Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pakistan: Poverty pushing people to join timber mafia

By Ali Hazrat Bacha,, July 16, 2011

The hike in prices of firewood, liquefied petroleum gas and construction material has been forcing the poverty-stricken people to join hands with traditional timber smugglers, who have intensified their activities in parts of Upper and Lower Dir districts, officials and locals said.

Owing to the official neglect, the lush green areas of Dir are being converted into barren lands and there seems no plan for reforestation or saving the existing forests in the areas.

“Seeing the unchecked activities of timber mafia in different areas of the district and growing wealth of the smugglers, the common people have also been lured into joining the illegal business to fight off poverty,” residents said.

During a recent visit to the forest-covered areas in lower and upper Dir, this correspondent observed that the people considered timber smuggling as their due right. The forests of Dalkhakhel Darra, Karo Darra, Nehag Darra and Usherai Darra are cut ruthlessly and transported to the lower parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The worst affected are the forests of Karo Darra and Usherai valleys. According to officials, the personnel of law-enforcement agencies are hand in glove with the timber mafia, who take their share and allow the loaded vehicles to pass through different checkpoints. The smugglers have even constructed link roads in several areas at their own expenses for transporting the timber to main commercial markets.

In some areas the timber is transported using mules and horses. The logs are sold at different rates, depending on their thickness and size.

In Karo Darra, the forests are cut at Doghalgi, Maban and Nasapai and transported through a link road of Gul Bagh, which crosses Akhagram village, to avoid any action.

A pickup truck driver at Akhagram Bazaar told this correspondent that he used to transport at least 50 timber logs daily from the forest area to the market from the last about 10 years. He said that some 300 non-custom-paid vehicles plied on the link roads of Karo Darra and majority of them were transporting timber and earning handsome amounts.

He said that the timber was supplied to down districts in connivance with the relevant officials. “Some of the wealthy smugglers have prepared special trucks having oil tanker-like bodies for transporting the timber,” he disclosed.

When contacted, an official Bahadur Zeb at the DFO office, Upper Dir, said that despite shortage of staff and resources the forest department was making efforts to save the forests. He said that most parts of the forest had been damaged during militancy.

However, he said that Kor Koi, Siddiqa Banda and Shamai were the most affected parts of Usherai Darra and cases had been registered against unknown people.

Mr Zeb said that they had very few staff for the protection of three forest ranges รข€“ Dir Kohistan, Upper Dir and Darrora (Wari). He also said that one of their two patrol vehicles had been snatched by militants and there was no alternative in this regard.

He said the strength of the existing staff of 73 should be doubled to effectively discourage the forest cutting and timber smuggling. “We have been demanding appointment of the necessary staff from the last four years, but still there is no response to our requests,” he said.


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