CHUNIAN

Changa Manga, the world largest manmade forest which used to cover an area of 12,500 acres has been reduced to 3,500 acres of land and has lost 60 percent of trees to the collusion between timber mafia and the forest officials.

Although The Nation unearthed mega logging scandal, involving widespread deforestation by timber mafia with connivance of officials on January 23, 2012, nothing came out of the inquiries and investigation conducted on the orders of The Punjab chief minister.

As per details, several news stories on the destruction of Changa Manga were published from January 2012 to September 2013 which somehow prodded Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif into taking notice. The CM constituted a CMIT to probe the matter while the then Punjab Ombudsman Javed Mehmood also took a suo moto notice of the trees logging and constituted a research cell to probe into the matter.

In June 2012, taking notice of the situation, Shahbaz Sharif ordered the removal of Chief Conservator (Forest) Dr Mehboobur Rehman and Conservator (Forest) Rao Khalid from their posts and made them OSD. It is to be noted that the Conservator Forest, who was made OSD, is the brother-in-law of Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan.

The chief minister also ordered the Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment DG and the CM Inspection Team (CMIT) chairman to carry out a joint investigation into the deforestation by timber mafia and ferret out facts about their possible links with the forest authorities. The CM also ordered to begin investigation into the issue from 1990 onwards. The team was directed to investigate all the DFOs, SDOs, Block Officers and Forest Guards posted at Changa Manga since 1990.

The Changa Manga Forest used to cover 12,500 acres of planted forest which has now been reduced to 3,500 acres due to the rapid deforestation by timber mafia with the connivance of the forest officials.

According to sources, 10 years ago, there were over 50,000 Shisham trees which have been cut down to a meagre 4,500 due to illicit logging which, sources asserted, was done with connivance of field staff and supervisory officers.

The sources claimed that during the period in question, no resources could be allocated for new plantation, afforestation and monitoring the existing forest crop or making provisions for canal water through small tributaries. They alleged that the offenders were ‘supported’ by Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Raja Muhammad Saleem.

On the other hand, the forest and wildlife secretary, while taking notice of the issue, transferred the DFO in April 2012 and posted Liaqat Ali Gill as the new in-charge on administrative grounds and citing several complaints of damages to the forest. But the reports claimed that Speaker Iqbal ‘intervened’ and ‘forced’ the secretary to put on hold the transfer and allow Saleem to continue working there.

Changa Manga scam is much more than a Timber Mafia issue. It is actually a nexus of Timber Mafia, Forest Officials and Political Mafias. In 2012, the CMIT instructed the forest secretary to launch First Information Reports (FIRs) against 14 identified forest department officials on the charges of theft of wood worth billions of rupees.  However, with the passage of time both CMIT, and Provincial Ombudsman lost their interest and will to follow events unfolding at Changa Manga Forest. Reports of CMIT and Provincial Ombudsman were published, some forest officials were arrested as well but the money looted by these officials could never be recovered. Almost all of them remained successful to get bails from the lower and high court due to weak prosecution by the government and hence all the efforts that were made to make criminals example for future went in vain.