Instead of preserving the fast-depleting forests, the government of Punjab is playing the part of a logger by leasing out 30,000 acres of forest land for agricultural purposes as reported in the media.
The anti-greenery decision has been taken by the cabinet by disregarding serious reservations of the provincial forest department.
The plan has been envisaged by Chief Minister Punjab to, supposedly, provide livelihood to unemployed youth of the province.
According to this vision he has had, the provincial government would lease out 25 acres of forest land to each unemployed youth holding a masters degree in forestry or agriculture with a loan of nearly Rs900, 000 from the Punjab Rural Support Programme.
The loans would be advanced at 13-percent nominal interest rate.
My issue, fundamentally, is with the scheme of converting forests into agricultural land.
May I point out that in Punjab, the British had allocated 50 to 100 acres of land near every village to establish stretches of forests.
These forests have been part of our landscape since and even after the introduction of local governments in 2001, the ecology created during the British era was not tampered with.
Trees do not grow overnight and some of the rare ones take decades to mature.
Would it not be better that instead of converting forests into agricultural lands, for whatever reason, the Punjab government endeavours to protect the existing forests to save the province from loss of green cover? Accommodating 1, 200 unemployed youth is a purpose of noble-spirit but that could be done by offering them lease of government agricultural lands, or less desirably, by offering them government jobs in agro-forestry.
The already-dwindling forests must be protected from this new threat to their existence in Punjab.
-S.
S.
SYED, Lahore, June 9.