Thursday March 30, 2023

PBC cuts, auctions 1,500 trees in Pindi to meet financial needs

June 15, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation has chopped down 1,500 trees in Rawalpindi to meet its financial needs, it is learnt.

During the PTI government's tenure, the PBC cut a total of 3,600 trees in its offices located in Peshawar and Rawalpindi and auctioned them to overcome its financial constraints. The PBC was all set to do the same with all trees on its sites around the country and had called bids but the process was halted following an intervention by the departments concerned. The PBC had given advertisements in newspapers for auctioning trees at its offices located in Islamabad, Faqeerabad, Quetta, Khairpur, Lahore, Hyderabad, Muzaffarabad, DI Khan, Khuzdar and Multan. All these actions were done without consulting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Climate Change.

Senator Irfan Siddiqui told The News that he highlighted the issue and took notice of the situation on May 26 and called on the-then PBC director general to inquire the matter. However, the DG did not appear in a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting held on June 1. Instead, the newly-posted director general appeared before the committee.

Siddiqui said that in the meeting, the PBC was asked to submit a report on thematter and was given a week. It was asked to explain if it consulted environmental agencies before cutting the trees. It was also asked who gave the orders and what were the reasons for doing such an illegal act. Nonetheless, the PBC had not submitted any report till now.

The auctioned trees in Rawalpindi covered 20 Kanals. These trees, which were sold for only seven lakh rupees, were priced higher. The types were Shireen (Albizia Lebbeck), Phalahi (Amristsar Gum), Safaida (Eculyptus Globu), Rubber Plant, Shehtoot (Mulberry), Tahli (Indian RoseWood), Reetha (Chinaberry), Mango trees, Silver Oak, Berry, Small Wild Bushes and Jungli Toot (Paper Mulberry). The data shows the sizes and width of these trees and interestingly, the trees mentioned as small wild bushes are said to be 20 feet high with a width of 10 inches.

PBC Station Director Radio Rawalpindi Asma Gul, when approached, said such decisions were taken by the headquarters and senior authorities and they had already clarified their action pertaining to cutting of trees to the relevant departments. The News also tried to contact Arshad Munir, joint secretary Ministry of information and Broadcasting, but failed to take his views on the matter.

Federal Secretary Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Shahera Shahid, when contacted, said an inquiry had been initiated and relevant agencies like the EPA had been involved in the matter. She said the cutting of trees could only be done if more trees were planted afterwards, e.g. plantation of 30 trees for cutting of one tree. She said the PBC had planted trees on the sites from where they were chopped off.

According to official documents, the auction of these trees was discussed in a meeting held on 02-09-2021 to review options for revenue generation from the PBC's own sources. Their auction was identified as a way out to bridge the budgetary shortfall. The documents said: "The PBC had been facing a financial crisis with the accumulated liabilities of about one billion rupees, which included medical bills, commutation charges, PM’s assistance package to families of deceased employees and maintenance of broadcasting equipment."

The PBC sources claim that chopping down the trees was no illegal activity as the DG PBC was the competent authority to approve such decisions. Besides all formalities for auction of the trees were followed like advertisements in newspapers and on the PPRA website.

An open auction was conducted through a committee at the unit level and under virtual supervision of a supervisory committee at the PBC Headquarters, Islamabad, to ensure transparency of the process. The supervisory committee included the chairman of PBC administration and four members of the department.

However, a top official of the Ministry of Climate Change, who spoke to this scribe on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the PCB did not seek permission from the ministry before cutting and auctioning these trees.

When contacted, an official from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that they were not asked by the PBC before cutting these trees. Interestingly, during investigations, it was learned that no action had been taken by any agency, ministry or government department against this act.