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February 10, 2018

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Billion Tree Tsunami: KP govt’s rejoinder, reporter’s response

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has issued a rejoinder to a story — KP official papers belie Imran’s ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ claims — reported by Arshad Aziz Malik. Given below are the KP government’s objections to the report followed by the reporter’s point-to-point response: —

1. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa official papers have never belied Mr. Imran Khan Billion Tree Tsunami claims. During his speech on the eve of Mega Event (Nov 14,2017) he stated that in KP more than one billion seedlings have been restored in degraded natural forests through enclosures and plantations carried out on communal and private lands.

Reply to No 1. Imran Khan's speech in this regard was telecast by all TV channels, in which he had announced achieving the target of planting 1.18 billion saplings in the province. He congratulated all the staff and other people involved in the activity. However, he did not mention including naturally grown or wild growth plants in the project. His claim was against the facts and figures given in the official files, acquired by the reporter.

2. According to the project documents 60% of one billion targets would have been achieved through inducing natural regeneration through 4509 enclosures established in the degraded natural forests. As reported by the Provincial Forestry Resource Inventory (PFRI) survey conducted by GIZ- 1996, 78% forests of KP were under stocked and out of which 74% had no regeneration. Under this project the degraded forests were rehabilitated and due to last 4 years regular protection through local communities, have shown promising results. According to 3rd Party Monitoring report of WWF those degraded forest have been rehabilitated and 2412 seedlings per hectare have been regenerated. Similarly Research & Development Directorate has reported 3100 seedlings per hectare in the enclosures. Thus enclosures have been established over 306983 ha area in which 732 million seedlings were regenerated and accounted for as per project framework. It’s internationally admitted that inducing natural regeneration is both ecologically feasible and cost effective. In developed countries like USA, 95 % seedlings are added to forest resource through natural regeneration techniques.

Reply to No 2. The published report had also made the same claim that all naturally grown and wild growth plants were included in the 1.18 billion plants. The WWF confirmed that 1,060 plants were found over one hectare land. That means 732 million trees could not be found on 306,983 hectares of land. However, reporter did not object to it either.

3. Similarly as per project plan and design plantations were carried out on communal /private and govt lands. Under this category various approaches were adopted like block plantation, badland stabilization, road side plantations, woodlots, saline & waterlogged and sowing/dibbling of seeds of indigenous plant species as envisaged in the PC-I of all the three phases. Consequently under this activity 298 million seedlings were planted. Likewise under Farm Forestry the overall target to distribute 200 million seedlings amongst the community free of cost for raising on their lands, against which 153 million seedlings have been distributed in very transparent and efficient manner.

Reply to No 3. All the facts and figures and details provided by the government had already been included in the original story.

4. Thus under abovementioned three categories 1118 million seedlings have been added to the forest resource of the province the break up is as under: (i) Through rehabilitation of degraded forests by establishing 4509 enclosures over an area of 306983 ha, 732 million seedlings have been regenerated.

(ii) Through plantation of all categories and sowing/dibbling of seeds, over area of 209008 ha , 298 million seedlings were planted.

(iii) Under Farm Forestry 153 million seedlings have been distributed amongst the community free of cost.

Reply to No 4. The facts and figures given in the report are once again being confirmed that 732 million plants were naturally grown while 153 million were distributed free-of-cost.

5. It is pertinent to mention here that initial the target of the program was adding one billion seedlings to the Forest resource of the province, whereas due to efficient management of enclosures the over & above 183 million recruitment of seedlings occurred and thus against the target of 600 million, 732 million seedlings were obtained cost effectively. Similarly against 200 million under plantation of all categories and sowing 298 million seedlings were raised and additionally due to more protection of all such areas indigenous species came within same area. Moreover within the plantation areas additional sowing has also been carried out through out in all plantations. The WWF which is an independent organization monitored all plantations and appreciated the project activities particularly 85% survival percentage, which is almost highest throughout the world.

Reply to No 5. The WWF verified only 20% of the project, but differences were detected in facts and figures. The organisation counted 1,060 plants on one hectare land, and no objection was raised on it. The versions of Forests secretary and project director were included in detail.

6. Similarly under Farm Forestry 153 million plants were distributed without cost to the individual, the record is available which can be verified at any time. In free distribution, the name of applicant, parentage, address, CNIC number, Cell No and No. of plants received, species and acknowledgement are available with the concerned offices which can be verified at any time. The WWF has also verified this activity. In free distribution of plants applications were sought and CDO concerned received and processed them till its logical end.

Reply to No 6. The Forests Department said 153 million saplings were distributed free-of-cost, but no specific method was adopted for it. On the other hand, the WWF said it verified only 10% of the saplings distributed free-of-cost, and doubts exist about the remaining 90% free distribution. At various places, people expressed serious reservations about free distribution of plants. It was not explained in the rejoinder that how many times the freely distributed plants were checked and until what time the checking would continue. There is no confirmation either that these plants still exist or have been lost until now. Even then department's viewpoint was published in detail.

7. As far as achievement of such a huge target within three years is concerned, the following are the main driving forces behind that: i. Political as well as institutional commitment of Govt. in terms of timely availability of funds and huge amount allocated in Forestry Sector which has never been allocated since Pakistan creation.

ii. Involvement of different wings of FE&WD including Forest Department, Wildlife Department FDC, EPA, PFI, Civil Societies, Law enforcement agencies and others.

iii. Involvement of public representatives, community, local Govt and District Administration.

iv. Staff worked day and night and even they sacrificed their Gazette holidays, throughout four years.

v. So for 10 personnel have scarified their precious lives and 5 sustained injuries and one permanently disabled during fighting against fire, land mafia and timber mafia.

vi. Local print and electronic media remained helpful in highlighting bottlenecks in the project and appreciated good works.

vii. Monitoring is being carried of all activities ranging from Forest guard to Chief Conservator of Forests.

viii. Secretary FE&WD alongwith CCF has personally checked the project activities and most of the time remained in the field so as to ensure both quality & quantity of the activities.

ix. PMU, FP&M Circle and M&E Directorate of P&D Department, has carried out rigorous monitoring of the activities, any short coming noticed both qualitatively and quantitatively were reported to the concerned staff for immediate course correction under intimation to higher ups. For verification the activities were revisited after attending observations.

x. In the history of Forest Department for the first time 3rd party monitoring of such like projects has been conducted which has geared up the pace of work.

xi. Progress was taken on daily basis and any laxity noticed was dealt with iron hand.

xii. Visits of dignitaries, high-up’s, Govt and opposition leaders, were also very helpful in the implementation of the project xiii. At last but not the least, Strategic Support Unit at CM Secretariat always remained busy in monitoring of different projects in KP and BTAP remained always at the top in term of its timely achievements.

Reporter's reply to No 7. Forests Department's version is included in the original report; its version is being published again and again and the Jang Group has published various news items in this regard.

8. Due to above narrated facts the targets have been achieved in short possible time. All activities have been mapped through GPS/GIS system and for transparency and to avoid duplication of areas X & Y coordinates of the sites have been obtained. For the first time the coordinates of all activities have been uploaded on the project website for the individuals to verify the activity through his/her smart phone. Besides, physical progress the financial details of each Forest Division have been up loaded on the project website for public consumption. The RTI commission has appreciated this transparency level of the project.

Reply to No 8. No need to give any reply, as the version is being repeated again and again.

9. Initially the project cost was Rs.22 billion with the design to achieve one billion seedlings target (60% through enclosures and 40% through plantation) within 4 years, however, one billion targets has been achieved in 3 years with a total cost of Rs.12.5 billion due to unprecedented efforts of the government.

Reply to No 9. The original story has published it in detail that total estimated cost of the project was Rs22 billion, and it was completed in Rs12.5 billion.

10. As far as transparency is concerned, so it is worth mentioning that for the first time the plantation activities are measured scientifically and monitored through 3rd party as well as involved the local community in constitution of VDCs for protection of forests, plantation raising and private nurseries.

Reply to No 10. The WWF was hired as consultant and the third party monitor, though there must have been two different organisations for the purpose. Questions are being raised over it also, as WWF carried out inspection of only 20% of the project, and it was paid Rs15 million. There are speculations about the remaining 80% project also. The WWF has only 11-member staff in the province and it engaged 12 students also. However, no objections were raised by the reporter over it.

11. In this project more than 500,000 individuals were engaged directly as well as indirectly in different activities like plantations, nursery raising and indirect via, transportation and other allied activities for earning their bread. More than 6500 households are receiving monthly salaries as Negehbans and Chowkidars hired for protection and watch & ward of enclosures and plantations as per prescribed procedure.

Reply to No. 11. The original story stated that 6,500 guards and chowkidars were hired, who are being paid Rs15,000 monthly salary. However, no planning seems in place to regularise the services of these temporary employees in future.

12. Under BTAP maximum emphasis has been given on ensuring transparency. Most of the payments have been made through cross cheques. The salary of 4509 Negehbans, 2000 Chowkidars and payments of 13260 private nurseries have been made through cross cheques. Similarly payments in departmental nurseries have been made through cross cheques for the material cost more than Rs. 0.1million. PMU deals with five directorates i.e. CDE &GAD, R&D, I&HRD, NTFP and FP&M Circle. All these directorates have been issued cross cheques for their allied project activities. Under the project 16 double cab pickups , 5 single Cab Pickups, Tractors, bowsers/Tankers and Augurs have been purchased through proper procedure and payments have been made through cross cheques. Consultants, Mega events, workshops and any project celebration event have been paid through cross cheques.Only two activities i.e. plantation and departmental nurseries daily wages laborers were employed and after a month they had been paid as per govt. procedure. Thus out of Rs. 12.5 billion, more than 50% payment has been made through cross cheques whereas 50% to daily laborers on Muster Rolls.

Reply to No. 12. The government is admitting that the payment of Rs6.25 billion has been made through cheques and the remaining Rs 6.25 was given in cash, on which the opposition parties too have raised objections. Only National Accountability Bureau (NAB) can investigate into it. Under which law, Rs6.25 billion were disbursed in cash when the law says that all payments should be made through bank. A bank account can be opened easily by depositing Rs500 and the branches are available across the province. Payments were made in cash while getting signatures and thumb impressions of the people. More fraud would surface if there is forensic audit of the entire exercise. An officer on the condition of anonymity said that there was serious fraud in the affair.

13. As reported in the instant news that irregularity has been noticed in allotment and selection of nurseries and procurement, distribution and planting of saplings is totally based on assumption. In the PC-I for Phase-I it was mentioned that the private nurseries will be allotted upto 4 units (100000 plants) and in this connection wide publicity was made in leading newspapers the response was not encouraging. However, due to scarcity of land with a small land holders and lack of experienced/ skilled labor as well as massive project requirement, during March 2015 the targets were enhanced and youth, women, senior citizens and progressive nursery growers were involved and there was no bar on upper ceiling on raising of private nurseries as was decided in PSC meeting. As far as procurement of plant is concerned that was pre-fixed i.e. Rs.6 and Rs.9 /plant for potted and Bare rooted plants respectively and was widely published in leading newspapers of KP.

Reply to No. 13. A limit of four units [100,000 saplings] was fixed in the PC-I. The department is admitting that it was modified to the advantage of the favourite persons. A large number of youth, women and elder citizens deprived of the opportunity to get orders for plants.

14. The story teller has also stated that tendering process for procurement of plants from private nurseries was not followed. As the main objective of the project was to raise one billion seedlings besides to provide job opportunities to the communities of Province therefore, no tendering was involved as per rules. Tenders are usually floated for selection of single entity for competition where rates are kept hidden. In this case rates were opened and instead of single successful bidder multi community members were involved. More than 13000 households have been benefited from this activity and in return the planting stock was obtained in time. Furthermore private nurseries have been allotted to those who were residing near to plantation sites so as to safeguard wastage and ensure timely availability of fresh saplings. On the other hand when one successful bidder would have been granted the target to provide seedlings perhaps he would not had been in a position to raise 3350 million plants which required 9780 kanals land. In this regard the targets were distributed throughout the Province on capability/ capacity basis of that individual on prefixed rate.

Reply to No. 14. As much as 393 million saplings were purchased in clear violation of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (KPPRA) rules, for which Rs6 and Rs9 were paid, causing a huge loss to the national exchequer, despite the fact that the same could have been acquired from market at much cheaper rates. All the plants are available at much lower price in the market. According to Section 2 of KPPRA Act 2012, any procurement not falling under the category of goods and works is described as services. If livelihood of the poor was the issue, then the orders should have been given to the poor.

15. As mentioned the rates of different species in the instant news that market rate was up to three times less than project rate is concerned, the project is openly inviting the supplier to provide plants to BTAP on the rates mentioned in said report both qualitatively and quantitatively of the desired specie. However, if any profit has been gain by the grower so that was his/her contribution in terms of labor, land and protection etc plus margin of benefit particularly youth, women and senior citizen through cross cheques. As far as brother of the then Chief Secretary is concerned, he was resident of Mardan and fulfilling the criteria for allotting the Private Nurseries units under progressive farmer category, keeping in view land, labor, resource and watering availability like others throughout province.

Reply to No. 15. Purchase of saplings at a three times higher price than market rate is being admitted, which resulted in a huge loss to the national kitty. 240 million saplings for plantation and 153 million for free distribution at the rate of Rs6 and Rs9 were bought. The total amount paid was between Rs2.35 billion and Rs3.537 billion when the same could have been procured through open tender for Rs600 million to Rs800 million. An amount of Rs1.18 billion could have been saved even if the price was half. A top government official - brother of former chief secretary Amjad Ali Khan - got an order for one million saplings. Same was the case with around 100 other favourites, who received huge orders. The only beneficiaries of buying saplings at higher price were the favourites and big land owners.

16. The statement in news clearly depicts that 60% target was achieved through natural regeneration and 40% through planting both department and Farm Forestry. Similarly 80% seedlings were raised under private sector and only 20% through departmental nurseries.

Reply to No. 16. The department is again admitting that 40% of the plants comprise plantation and free distribution with the remaining 60% are a result of natural growth. Then why Imran was kept in the dark?

17. The stance of newspaper regarding no committee to monitor the project activities rather Forester & FG were responsible for the monitoring alone in private nurseries is baseless. In fact a committee was constitute at each Forest Division to monitor private nurseries coupled with these private units monitored by WWF, PMU, FP&M and M&E Directorate of P&D Department. The final payments were made after proper counting & verification by the committee on actual number of plants of desired size and vigor. It is not correct that bar on upper ceiling of private nurseries was removed after appearance of complaint in media, rather it was felt during phase-I to involve progressive farmers to achieve gigantic targets, and otherwise it was not achievable.

Reply to No. 17. The low-level staff members - forest guards and foresters - got saplings from nurseries as they were also tasked with the plantation. It resulted in complaints regarding irregularities - a fact admitted by the project director. The WWF is being dragged into the every issue, although it checked only 20%.

18. As regarding raid of Director of Anti-Corruption on the house of Mr. Arshad Ali Khan is concerned, that was personal. In this regard an independent inquiry was conducted which has exonerated all the charges and from the units of Mr. Arshad Khan 1.00 million healthy and fit stock was procured as per procedure. This is not correct that only large units have been allotted in Peshawar, Charsadda and Mardan districts rather allotted throughout the province to achieve the desired size plants in time for achieving the targets.

Reply to No. 18. Anti-Corruption Director Ziaullah Toru raided the house of Arshad Ali Khan - brother of former chief secretary Amjad Ali - after receiving complaints. But he faced retaliation against which a petition was filed with the Peshawar High Court, which contained all details. Complaints about serious irregularities also emerged when a special anti-corruption team inspected different sites. But it was stopped from taking any action with its director being sidelined. The anti-corruption department record showed all the complaints and reports.

19. Every department and Civil servant is dealt under Civil Service Act-1973 and E& D Rules 2011. Whenever any official/officer is found guilty of inefficiency, misconduct and corruption, disciplinary proceedings are being initiated against that individual.

Reply to No. 19. The case of Director Toru is in the court. It was the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government which appointed him to the post after ensuring his transfer from Balochistan. Later, the chief minister handed over the charge of the director's office to his chief security officer.

20. As this was a gigantic project, and targets were manifold to which FD staff was never exposed. During implementation whenever any short coming was noticed the staff was instructed on the spot for course correction. Whenever any incorrigible individual was found, disciplinary proceeding was initiated against him and accordingly penalized. Similarly the lethargic and indiscipline individuals were also not involved in this project. Similarly if any short coming was noticed that was rectified by the same individual at his own cost. So far no mega corruption scandal has been noticed.

Reply to No. 20. The KP Assembly members too levelled corruption allegations with regard to the Billion Tree Tsunami. The affairs can be checked through any institution.

21. As already mentioned in proceedings paragraphs that no KPPRA rules applied on private nurseries as plants came under agriculture crop schedule and it is not a Good, that is why neither KPPRA Rules applied nor sale tax / income tax as per FBR is levied on private nurseries business.

Reply to No. 21. KPPRA rules were violated as procurement of saplings falls under services, which requires issuance of tenders.

22. It is true that the Hon’ble Chief Minister’s Helicopter has been utilized for aerial broadcasting and 27 tones of seeds of different species, fit to the environmental has been broadcasted throughout Province and only Rs. 1.8 million cost has been incurred on designing installation of special funnel and POL charges of helicopter etc. The germinated seedlings have not been accounted towards the total end targets.

Reply to No. 22. It has been mentioned in the news item in detail, and 27 tonnes has been mentioned separately.

23. The reporter has claimed the narrative of Secretary FE&WD about 60% saplings through enclosures and 40% through plantation and then why he has twisted report otherwise which is beyond comprehension. Secretary FE&WD has also stated that project has been completed with Rs.12.5 million against the designed PC-I of worth Rs.22.00 billion in three years. The Hon’ble CM has been pleased to extend the project for another two years till June 2020 with a cost of Rs.7710 million due to its successful implementation and to maintain the assets developed under this program. If this extended period cost is included in a total cost even then the total cost will become Rs.19.5 billion.

Reply to No. 23. The news item carries the forests secretary's stance, who said that the Rs22 billion project was completed at a cost of Rs12.5 billion, which is also confirmed by of the figures.

24. Audit has been carried out throughout the Province, first time audit officers has checked record and field activities simultaneously. Any short comings mentioned were rectified and in case of any recovery imposed was recovered as per rules/procedure. Similarly Account General of KP has been requested for carrying out performance audit and MoCC has been requested to carry out independent SOWT analysis through any reputable international firm.

Reply to No. 24. No international institution has conducted financial audit of the project so far.

25. As WWF has remained active in all the phases in monitoring process, and when the reporter asked them about this project, it was explained the project has performed up to the mark. The WWF has also verified 1.18 billion seedlings added to the forest resource under BTAP. The 3rd party report is available on the project website.

Reply to No. 25. The WWF's stance is available which mentions figures of natural growth, plantation and free distribution, but it did not take responsibility for financial affairs.

26. In spite of all above facts the reporter has misguided the readers. As far as the statement of Ex-CM KP is concerned, that is a political statement, as all project activities are mapped, coordinates have been taken, recorded and documented and both physical and financial details are available on the project website (billiontreeproject.kp.gov.pk).

Reply to No. 26. Making facts and figures public is responsibility of a journalist, which is being endorsed by the department. Forests Minister Ishtiaq Armar was absent when questions were raised in the provincial assembly. The session witnessed ruckus. The government should respond in the house.

The reporter stands by his story that there were irregularities in the Billion Tree Tsunami project. There was lack of planning and irregularities emerged due to haste so that the political advantage could be gained before elections.

The provincial government high-ups have intentionally or unintentionally kept Imran in the dark about the facts. The figures were exaggerated that made the project controversial.

An amount of at least Rs1-1.5 billion would have been saved if tenders had been issued. The KPPRA Act 2012 says the projects costing millions and billions of rupees cannot be executed without tenders. Rs6.5 billion were paid in cash against the law. The entire issue has been made suspicious by not making the payments through account or cross-cheque.

Forensic check of signatures or thumb impressions of those who received the money is necessary so that the questions arising about transparency could be answered.

The decision about four units [maximum limit] was made in the PC-I for the poor; but orders were issued to the influential to benefit the favourites. Several important names would be revealed if a probe is held into the issue.

The WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have admitted restoration of forests in the province, but neither they verified plantation of 1.18 billion saplings claims nor conducted financial audit of the project. Imran Khan used the Billion Tree Tsunami for political objectives.

 

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