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July 16, 2020

Ministry of Climate Change issues rebuttal

Top Story

July 16, 2020

ISLAMABAD: With reference to the news item by Ansar Abbasi, published in The News, on July 14, 2020, it is stated that the news item is unfortunately based on false information and is malicious and it tantamount to defamation.

The Ministry of Climate Change said it would like to vehemently rebut this factually incorrect news. Firstly, the wild accusation that locust attacks are being used to hide away the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project (TBTTP) performance in Punjab is wrong. It is for information that there was no official drive to put blame on locust attack for any damaged plantations. The TBTTP completed its first year this June FY2019-20, and Punjab was able to meet the physical targets of the afforestation work throughout the province by achieving 90%of the target. It was able to plant 51 million plants in this year.

It may be emphasized that the locust attack started three months earlier in certain districts of Punjab such as Multan, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalpur, Khanewal, Lodharan, Rajanpur etc. and it was a damaging attack mainly on the agriculture crops. While locusts attack all types of green vegetation indiscriminately including forest crop however, the forest area in these districts is comparatively much smaller and there was very strong response by the Forest Department to contain the swarms.

The ground investigations were done and the government of Punjab has officially reported “minimal” damage to the forests as the forest guards and nighabaans (caretakers) had averted the attack. The percentage of success reported in the said news item i.e 20 to 25% is simply malicious and incorrect.

Similar accusation of locust attack on the forests raised under the TBTTP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is also incorrect and denied. The Block plantations at DI Khan, Lakki Marwat and Khyber Tribal District, totaling 600 hectares, were initially under attack of locust in the first week of April, 2020. However, with concerted and joint collaboration of the Pak Army, the Agriculture Department and local communities, the Forest Department succeeded to contain the attack. The plantation sites are in excellent condition, duly verified and monitored by the monitoring unit.

It needs to be put on record that the earlier Billion Tree Tsunami Project (BTTP) in KPK undertaken by the PTI government from 2014 to 2018 has been evaluated to be a high impact project on the basis of Third Party Monitoring. It produced results beyond its planned target of 1 billion, as it closed at 1.208 billion trees, and also did so below the estimated cost. The original PC1 of the project was for Rs22 billion for a target of 1 billion trees.

However, later as the project performed much better than expected due to community protection and assisted natural regeneration of forests, the cost was revised downwards to Rs14 billion, which is unprecedented.

Also, TBTTP is the first public sector project which chose to go for an independent third party validation audit of its “performance”. Although financial audits are done, performance audits are not a regular feature and that also by independent third parties. In this case, WWF carried out three performance audits which verified and recognised the strong work done in raising nurseries, the success rate of planted forests was over 80% and the natural regeneration in reserve forests which from being negative went to almost 2412 plants/hectare. All three reports gave a thumbs-up report to the project.

It is because of the above facts, that international organisations like IUCN and FAO have not only recognised the project success on many accounts but FAO report has endorsed the forest expansion in KP from 20% to 26% of land area due to the TBTTP. World Economic Forum has done at least five videos and reports acclaiming the project. Finally, SUPARCO through satellite imagery changes has endorsed the success of the project. All these reports provide high credibility to the project which such unwarranted and unfortunate media propaganda cannot undermine.

Forgoing in view and based on the above expositions, the story published in “The News”, is not only untrue but also concocted, malicious and miles away from the truth and ground realities. It is requested that the Ministry of Climate Change’s rebuttal be published on in “the News”, of July 15, 2020 on a most conspicuous space to reflect the official facts and figures.

Ansar Abbasi adds: The Ministry of Climate Change appears to have reacted without reading the story, which is based on complaints lodged to different authorities following which the Punjab government has already ordered an inquiry into the matter. It is also not known how the Ministry rejected these allegations when the Punjab government's inquiry body has not yet carried out its work or submitted its report. The News has got copies of the complaints as well as Punjab government's notifications for the setting up of a probe committee, which was later notified afresh with different members.

Meanwhile independent Punjab government sources challenge the Ministry of Climate Change's success claims regarding the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project. These sources asked the Ministry to choose only one Range Management Forest Division Bhakher of Central Zone Lahore to check through independent team of experts as to how much target of plantations has been achieved at sites measuring more than 5000 acres as against what is shown in progress reports up to March- May 2020 submitted to Project Director Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project or to Administrative department ie (Forests) Punjab.

Regarding the probe committees constituted by the Punjab Forestry department- the fact totally ignored by the Climate Ministry in its rebuttal-, these sources asked why the first probe Committee, constituted on 10th June, 2020, was denotified after 20 days and a new committee of juniors officers was constituted with members, who are serving under the direct supervision of Chief Conservator of Forests Central Zone Lahore, under whose domain the alleged wrong has been done.

These sources insist that only a fair investigation will determine that at the site quantitatively and qualitatively plantation work has still not been completed in an area measuring 5000 acre as shown to have been completed upto April 2020. They said that it can be checked by using GIS/RS systems or methods and even by using Drones of Urban Unit of the Punjab Government or by Punjab Forest department GIS Lab or through WWF Lahore.

These sources also reiterate that master rolls with fake names and dubious measurement books were prepared, Bills/Vouchers were constructed with bogus entries and log books of government tractors fraudulently constructed by showing entries of diesels/mobil oils shown used.

It is said that log books of Peter engine shown purchased and being used at sites whereas these have still not been installed at the given sites, disposal of diesels has been shown in fakely prepared log books.

Who prepared these bogus/fake documents, log books of Government Tractors/Peter Engine's, Government Vehicles in Bhakher Range Management Forest Division? Why was the initially notified probe committee changed?

These sources add that Chief Conservator of Forests PME Lahore also inspected the sites of plantations shown raised/completed but neither Monitoring & Evaluation report has been generated up till now nor any inspection note or report is available on record.

"Just one Division of Range Management Forest Circle Lahore can be checked as a test case of embezzlement/bungling of government funds provided under Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project in Punjab Forest department," challenges a source.

The News stands by its story.