Over 50 per cent of the land dedicated to forestation by the British colonial power has been encroached upon
BALOCHISTAN: It took the Balochistan government five minutes to hand over 9,000 acres of the Hingol National Park land to a federal agency, in a move that not only subverted rules of the provincial legislature but also threatens the sparse forest cover in the region.
On November 9, 2015, Provincial Minister for Information and Parliamentary Affairs Abdul Raheem Ziaratwal tabled the Balochistan Protection and Preservation of Forest and Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2015 in the provincial assembly. The legislators moved to quickly pass the bill.
They had little idea that they signed off 9,000 acres (36.42 square kilometres) of the province’s land to the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO).
— Mohammad Ali Talpur (@mmatalpur) November 23, 2015
Deputy Speaker Abdul Quddus Bizenjo said the land being handed over was owned by the Forest Department and was located in Lasbela district, near Karachi.
But why did the legislators ignore rules of the very house in which they sit? According to the rules of business, any bill or amendment needs to be thoroughly debated before it is tabled for approval.
Ziaratwal, however, had submitted a motion along with the bill that sought to exempt it from rule No 84 of the assembly. It says a bill is supposed to be presented before the concerned parliamentary committee for thorough review and vetting before it is presented on the floor of the assembly for debate and voting.
But with the motion to exempt the bill from the rule, it was passed without any consultation or discussion in concerned committees, nor did any MPA demand a debate on the bill.
Even though none of its MPAs raised any questions about the bill when the government was bulldozing it through the assembly, Balochistan National Party’s information secretary Agha Hassan condemned the move. The opposition party warns that the government was making an irreparable mistake in handing over a section of the park which puts the interest of the people of Balochistan at stake.
Politicians are not the only ones who are opposed to the move. Balochistan’s Forest Department has also opposed the move.
A senior official of the department says the forest cover in the province stands at a mere four per cent of the total land, as opposed to the stipulated 25 per cent. Talking to The Express Tribune, the official said prolonged drought in the province has already accelerated the pace of deforestation.
Over 50 per cent of the land dedicated to forestation by the British colonial power has been encroached upon with leaders grossly insensitive to its implications.
“It [handing over the land to Suparco] is insane and could damage the environment,” warns head of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Faiz Kakar. “We have to work on increasing the forest cover areas rather than depleting it.”
Opposing the move, Kakar says the park is a national asset and that the government should allocate an alternative area. Around 407,724 acres (1,650 square kilometres) of the Hingol forest was declared a national reserve in 1988 to protect its natural landscape and a host of flora and fauna.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2015.