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Peshawar

September 25, 2015
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Project faces planning, implementation problems

Peshawar

September 25, 2015

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BISHAM: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s billion trees afforestation project launched under the “Green Growth Initiative” in the last spring is facing planning, monitoring and implementation problems.
Those familiar with the project said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is home to over 40 percent total forest area of the country. PTI chief Imran Khan and Chief Minister Pervez Khattak have time and again claimed environment sector as being one of the priorities of the current provincial government.
Though the slogan of planting one billion trees is very attractive and urgent need of the hour, a lot of problems are there. The philosophy of the Billion Trees Afforestation Project was public awareness and involvement for mass plantation. However, the representatives of communities, especially those dependent on forests, have not been involved at any stage of planning, monitoring and evaluation.
It is contrary to the community participation approach that is followed in the forestry sector around the world and also legally sanctioned by the community.
A violation of bottom-to-top approach will mean that target communities will feel alienated and will not be motivated to participate in the activities to make the project a success.
A huge target of community organisation was given to the Forest Department under the project to form Village Development Committees, Joint Forest Management Committees, Women’s Organisations and Audit and Monitoring Committees from among communities who have stakes in forest resources as owners and users or are community elders or activists.
“We were promised that powers would be transferred to the registered committees of community and incentives would be distributed through resolutions of community problems. However, all the incentives have been distributed among the favourites of the mafia of local forest officials and the feudal elite with favoritism right from project director of

Tsunami Project to range officer,” said Majid Khan, a forest owner from Shangla. However, forest officials have genuine problems of their own.
“Plantation is not like construction. Plants have to be grown according to season, elevation, type of soil and need constant care. So the forceful targets from high-ups without taking feedback from the field staff is like using divisional forest officers and sub-divisional forest officers as scapegoats. There is also a constant conflict situation between forestry and mobilisation staff.
The old-school policing forest officers are constantly victimising the newly appointed Community Development Officers and Range Officers who are in favour of community participation, stated a forest official on condition of anonymity.
Although more than a dozen forest officials were suspended including a conservator and few divisional forest officers on corruption charges, experts believe that these steps are not enough as community participation is necessary for sustainable protection and development of forest resources.
“Good and bad officers are in every department and it is unjust to vilify the whole Forest Department. The department lacks the necessary resources and capacity to improve the situation,” he added.
He said there were four tehsils in Shangla but only two Forest Sub-Divisions and only one Range Officer with a little more than two dozen Forest Guards in whole of Shangla where forest cover is about 30 percent of the total area. He said the staff, especially those from other districts, face difficulties as the offices and inspection huts of Forest Department were not rebuilt in Shangla following the 2005 earthquake.
The salary of a forest guard is too low compared to the Police Department. He has no official transport and modern weapons to cover a huge area of forests, which forces a Forest Guard to do corruption. Therefore, the forest committees formed by community should be empowered in real sense to protect and develop the forest cover.
However, forest officials are reluctant to hand over authority to the community even when they are bound to do so by law. Even Community Development Officers who are responsible for awareness raising are not provided official vehicles as travelling is very important for community meetings and monitoring progress of activities,” complained Muhammad Younas, a former forester from Shangla.
There is frustration among citizens involved in BTAP, especially in the nursery growers under Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme to develop the green sector.
“We were very motivated at the start of spring plantation campaign; however, we have lost our motivation as we are not paid in time. When we contact officials, they tell us that they have not received money from the government yet. To make matters worse, those who have relatives and patrons in Forest Department are paid and employed in the project by merely doing rubber stamp written work instead of genuine community participation,” said a youth employed under the BTAP seeking anonymity as he fears he might face a cancellation of his agreement with the forest office.
Malakand and Hazara divisions are home to precious forest resources. The government should involve the community organisations of forest owners, users and activists in decision making as well as monitoring and evaluation and not using community organizations just as merely silent audience.
Every Forest Block should be provided official vehicle, modern weapons and surveillance equipment as given to the Police Department so that forest guards do not have excuses to engage in corrupt practices due to financial constraints.
The ego issues among the Secretary Environment, the three chief conservators, project director BTAP and director Community Development Directorate should be shunned and the recommendations from community organisations, meetings and assemblies should be given preference instead of enforcing unrealistic targets upon the Forest Divisions from the top.

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