ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Forest Department has retrieved 1279.21 acres of forest land from the small and medium-size housing societies in Murree by January 2013 while 1576 acres is yet to be retrieved to preserve one of the most beautiful natural forests in the world, well-placed sources told The News. Some 140 First Information Reports (FIR) have also been lodged against those who have grabbed the forest land while delineation process identified 2,325 numbers of encroachers in and along the boundaries of the forest, the sources disclosed.
Details reveal that during the August 2008, upon the orders of the Punjab chief minister, the District Administration and Forest Department started conducting demarcation of all the forest areas of Murree Forest Division. The then DCO Rawalpindi constituted four teams of Revenue and Forest Department Officers and officials. They jointly demarcated whole the external boundaries of Murree Forest Division in the span of two years and detected large scale encroachments/land grabbing by small and medium-size housing societies along with the influential locals of the area. The joint team conducted field surveys covering a total length of 625 km of forest boundaries from October 2011 to November 2012.
By the end of January 2013, 1,158.8 ha (2,862 acres) of forest land was detected as encroachment out of 19,321.31 ha (47,744 acres) of state forest land. The drastically increased forest degradation and encroachment led to a suo moto notice (27th January, 2010) case vide WP no. 1813\2010 by the then Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif of the Lahore High Court (LHC). WWF – Pakistan became a party to this case in February 2010 to provide help to the court in protecting rapidly degrading the forest resources. Punjab Forest Department, Punjab Revenue Department, Survey of Pakistan (SoP) and WWF – Pakistan worked in partnership to conduct a comprehensive exercise of forest delineation. The Lahore High Court also ordered for demarcation of forest boundaries and initiation of criminal cases against the forest land encroachers. By January 2013, 140 First Information Reports (FIRs) have been registered in the police stations of Murree tehsil. The Punjab Forest Department has so far retrieved 517.68 ha (1,279.21 acres) of encroached area out of a total of 1,155.8 ha (2,856 acres) identified. The delineation process identified 2,325 numbers of encroachers in and along the boundaries of the forest currently occupying 638.09 ha (1,576.80 acres) of State Forest land in Murree Forest Division.
The sources said that an Atlas containing more than 150 maps that have been endorsed by the Punjab Forest Department, Punjab Revenue Department, Survey of Pakistan and WWF – Pakistan has been compiled, which is also a unique document. “Since 1952 to 2011 more than seven percent reduction/deterioration in state forests has been detected and 04-05% reduction has been noticed from 1999 to 2008 and 01% forest vegetation has been increased from 2008 to 2011 whereas 13% Guzara Forests/Shamilat Deh lands has been vanished. This deterioration/de-forestation is leading to depletion in valuable forest resources of this tract and more than 6000 Ac area has lost the vegetation during last five years and maximum de-forestation/degradation of land/govt resources has been noticed from 1999 to 2011 in Guzara Forests/Shamilat Deh lands”, the sources maintained.
Along with this delineation of forest boundaries a detailed vegetation change analysis has also been conducted with the help of high resolution satellite imageries along with the field ground truth and by analysis of the aerial photographs acquired from the SPARCO, Survey of Pakistan, Canadian firms and still-photography on the spots and by plotting sample-plots.
Pakistan has rapidly depleted forest resources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Pakistan has the highest rate of forest degradation in Asia and the country is ranked at 110 in the forest cover land of the world. In the Punjab province, since 1947, a total of 80,038 ha (197,780 acres) of forest land have been transferred for non-forestry purposes.