KARACHI: Sindh has 34.84 million acres of land out of which 8 percent, 2.785 million acres, is comprised of forests. These forests include 600,000 acres of riverine forests, 180,000 acres of irrigated plantations, 700,000 of mangrove forests, and 1,080,000 acres of Range lands.
However, according to a document available to PPI, 140,827.1 acres of forestland is encroached by influential people. As per the data, 149,061.1 acres of land was under encroachment in 2013 but after clearance of 8,234 acres of land during the year, the figures came down to 140, 827.1 acres.
It states that the land still under encroachment includes, 3758.5 under Siren Forest Development Project (SFDP) Circle Hyderabad, 18, 803 acres of land under Afforestation Circle Thatta, 42, 458.5 acres under Afforestation Circle Hyderabad, 40,013.8 acres under Afforestation Circle Larkana, 35,470 acres under Afforestation Circle Sukkur, 62 acres under Directorate Sericulture Hyderabad and 261.3 acres under Social Forestry Circle Sukkur.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a forest department official told PPI that majority of the land was encroached by influential people of the area along with the support of forest officers and guards.
He said that the forest land was used to build houses, farm houses while the timber was sold out to earn money.
He said that the forest department could demolish a house built on forestland within 24 hours. Otherwise, the owner could pay a paltry fine of Rs300 per year for six years.
Besides houses built on forest lands, said the forest officer, vehicles taking away timber are also fined. A donkey cart can be fined from Rs500 to Rs1,500, a pickup from Rs2,500 to Rs3,000 while a tractor trolley can be fined from Rs5,000 to Rs10,000 if found loaded with chopped forest trees.
He said that the forest department had planted new trees in the forest but the sapling were cut down before they could grow.
He said that forest land had not been demarcated hence no one knew from where it began or ended and how much land was available in each taluka. This made proving encroachment difficult, he added.
When contacted, Minister for Forests, Wild Life and Minorities, Gyan Chand said that under Section 26 of the Sindh Forest Act 1927 and under the Sindh Environment Protection Act 1997, all activities harming the environment, trees or biodiversity of the area were prohibited.
He said that the ministry was pursuing these issues and on Wednesday nine forest officers were suspended by the department after they were found guilty of allowing illicit transit of wood.
Those suspended include Incharge Regional Raid Party Shujauddin Vistro, Incharge Circle Raid Party Hyderabad Hassan Shah, Incharge By-pass Forest Check-post Wazeer Ali Khoso, Incharge Jamshoro Forest Check-post Mumtaz Ali Jatoi, Incharge Circle Raid Party Thatta Shamsuddin Soomro, Incharge Dhabeji Forest Check-Post Dost Ali Jokhio, Incharge Gharo Forest Check-Post Mohammad Rahim and Incharge Achhi Mori Forest Check-Post Ghulam Qadir.
He said that the department would not spare anyone who was found guilty of destroying forests of the province and they had directed police and Rangers to clear the encroached area.