ISLAMABAD - The Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Council recommended to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is also chairperson of the council, to promulgate a new timber policy for the region, The Nation has learnt.

Sources said the proposed policy was almost similar to controversial timber policy 2013 promulgated by previous government of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in GB which promoted illegal timber cutting and trade in the region.

Ex-PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf introduced the policy just a day before his term expired in March 2013. Under the policy, he allowed the transportation of four million cubic feet (cft) of timber from Diamer district of GB to other parts of the country.

In addition to the legally-cut 2.0 million cft of timber, which locals claimed had begun to decay. The policy also stated that around 1.9 million cft of illegally-cut timber could be traded after contractors pay a fine that varies depending on the type of trees. The policy, according to the locals, was meant to dispose of the illegal timber which was cut at least two years before the policy was promulgated. But it resulted in falling of thousands of fresh trees in the district. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a month in taking charge of the government on July 5, 2013 withdrew the policy.

Sources said the GB Council meeting was held under the chair of Minister for Kashmir affairs and GB Barjees Tahir last month. PM Nawaz Sharif could not attend the meeting because of his tight schedule. They said that minister after approval of the members of council sent recommendations to PM office to promulgate new timber policy for GB.

Sources said that millions of rupees of kickbacks and bribes were involved in promulgation of the policy by the previous government. "The policy remained enacted only for four months but it played havoc with the already diminishing forests of the Diamir district."

Talking to The Nation Public Relation Officer of Minister Barjees Tahir confirmed that GB Council met last month and recommended the new GB timber policy draft to PM for his final approval. He denied that GB Council decided to reopen the former government policy. He said that government would provide a last chance to timber mafia to dispose of wood which was cut illegally and that also after paying hefty fines. "They will not be allowed to exploit the natural resources of the region. Our government believes that locals have the first right on their resources," he added. He said that the main point of the new policy was to secure the forests in GB. "A framework for next thirty years has been given in the proposed policy," he said that 2013 timber policy of previous government was based on permits. "Under new policy no new timber would be allowed to cut without fulfilling the given criteria."

On May 2, 2013, conservator of parks and wildlife Gilgit-Baltistan wrote a letter to the secretary Forests, Wildlife, and Environment Department of the region mentioning "mega-corruption and misappropriation" around timber disposal policy 2013 - but no action was taken.

Officially, Pakistan put a ban on commercial logging in 1993 after the devastating floods in 1992. It was meant to check deforestation and watershed degradation. But since then the government has several times altered policies to dispose of legal and illegal timber from the district - by stating "relaxation shall be the last opportunity where after it shall not apply again anywhere".

After every five years or so, the government issues policy directives, providing opportunity to timber mafia to dispose of the timber it collects in Diamer. During the last decade, three such directives were issued in 2002, 2008 and 2013.

The local feared that new policy would also result in cutting of hundreds of thousands of trees from already shrinking forests of GB region.