CHUNIANWAQAS A KHAN
Hundreds of residents “illegally” settled within the boundaries of Changa Manga forests set on fire the official vehicles and house of the district forest officer as a protest against the operation launched to retrieve the government land from them.DFO Liaqat Ali Gill’s residence is situated besides the Changa Manga Forest Rest House. The situation became worse when the forest officials along with police started an operation in the area “grabbed” by the people. As soon as the officials started operation, men and women started protest and then they turned violent and burnt the vehicles of SDO forest and also attacked the police. The police however opted to leave the place. Seeing the police on the run the protesters entered the Changa Manga Forest House, allegedly looted the property and destroyed the furniture, plants and other valuables present in the rest house. Changa Manga Tourist Resort is situated 80 kilometers from Lahore. The park is home to species of hog deer, Indian peafowl, jackal, mouflon, nilgai and wild boar. It is one of the three wildlife parks located in Lahore District, other two Jallo Wildlife Park and Lahore Zoo Safari, also called Woodland Wildlife Park. A many people visit the forest for picnics and merrymaking but hardly a few know that they are visiting one of the largest irrigated and planned forests of the world.Located in Chunian, the forest covers an area of 5,000 hectares (12,510 acres) and is one of the largest of its kind. The planting and irrigation took place in 19th century in British era. Today, it is the source of revenue for the state. The forest is also a popular recreational area. Most of the trees belong to the family of species such as acacia nilotica (kikar) or morus alba (mulberry).But, the rapid deforestation has put this world famous reserve in danger. People from the surrounding villages have continuously cut the trees for their own petty benefits and now the situation here is pathetic. More than 60% of the forest has been deforested by the timber mafia. The mafia is beyond the reach of law enforcement agencies and authorities of the Forest Department as they themselves are involved in this money making process.On a report filed by The Nation in 2011, the Lahore High Court and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took action and DFO Malik Saleem and other forest officials involved in facilitating the deforestation were arrested. CM Punjab himself ordered to evacuate the government land from the mafia. These villagers are the main cause of deforestation. Talking to this scribe, DFO Gill said that he will not rest until the mafia is pushed out of the forest. He said it is the matter of national interest and he will go all out to evict them from the area. On the other hand, the affected people denied the allegations and said that they have no other place to live so the government should provide them with alternate place and help them construct their homes outside the forest. Social and political personalities M Saleem Bhatti Advocate and Malik Pervaiz Ahmad Raza criticised the operation saying that in this hot summer it was unjust to throw the people out of their homes.