GILGIT, Nov 22: Speaker of the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly (NALA) Malik Mohammad Miskeen has accused the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas of causing a loss of billions of rupees to the national exchequer by providing relief to the timber smugglers in the region.
In an interview with this correspondent, Malik Mohammad Miskeen, who is also chairman of the non-functional Public Accounts Committee, said since 1993 under the patronage of Kana Division not only the illegally-cut timber had been smuggled to the rest of the country but also the natural forest was destroyed despite a ban imposed by the federal government.
He said the Kana Division had sought report on how much illegal and legal timber was lying in the region so that the matter could be resolved.
The local administration submitted the report, prepared by the forest department, to the government stating that 2.5 million cubic feet of illegally cut timber was present in different parts of the region. He said Kana Division approved a policy for transportation of the timber after which it was shifted.
Mr Miskeen said the government had devised three different policies to transport timber that had been chopped down illegally in various areas.
Lastly, the administration of the Northern Areas submitted a report to the Kana division in which it was mentioned that 3.8 million cubic feet of timber was ready for transportation after their categorisation and recommended imposition of fine.
The speaker, while quoting a fresh decision of the federal cabinet, said the government approved transportation of 3.8 million cubic feet of timber subject to imposition of fine against various timber smugglers.
“In the notification the government categorically deferred the working plan and advised adoption of various measures to protect natural forests,” he added.
Mr Malik said Kana Division conveyed the notification to the region’s administration and ordered its implementation in letter and spirit. However, after a lapse of some time it issued another directive and declared some part of the timber legal whereas in the notification of the federal government nothing was mentioned as such.
He said if 3.8 million cubic feet of timber mentioned in the notification of the prime minister was transported in due course of time then the fixed fine should be deposited in the national exchequer. He also demanded that the government should make it public how much money was deposited as fine.
According to rough estimates, the timber traders have incurred a loss of Rs3.42 billion on the national exchequer by not depositing the fine and transporting the timber.
The speaker said the timber should remain at the site if government failed to come up with the deposited money.
He said if timber was not transported despite payment of fine then it would become government property because under the fed eral directive, after September 30, the leftover timber would be confiscated.
“However, it was unfortunate that the timber had been transported after a meager amount was deposited in the treasury,” he claimed. He said another illegal way of cutting down forests was given a legal cover on the pretext of transporting timber to the rest of the country for furniture purpose. A large quantity of timber was therefore smuggled as a result but Kana Division imposed no fine due to its vested interests.
Mr Malik said Kana Division framed all policies with regard to Gilgit-Baltistan, and the local administration’s task was only to implement them. The ultimate blame for the destruction of forests therefore rests on Kana Division, he added.
The speaker said it was an open secret that permits were sold by Kana Division and timber smugglers were encouraged by the authorities of the division.
He demanded of President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Qamar Zaman Kaira to order a judicial inquiry into the matter so that responsibility was fixed for this huge national loss.
He said it was high time that those involved in encouraging the timber smugglers despite a ban on cutting down of trees were exposed and brought to book.
He also demanded that the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly should intervene into the matter. Courtesy: Dawn