Waqas A Khan

CHUNIAN - Timber mafia in collusion with the Forest Department deforested 60pc of trees from the world’s largest handmade forest and set fire to the remnants of the trees spread over 100 acres of land in Changa Manga here on Sunday.

The forest official said that wood worth millions of rupees has turned to ashes. The post-fire situation shows that there was no wood to be burnt except the remaining parts of the trees as the wood has already been stolen.

In presence of Changa Manga Forest Officer Malik Saleem, the timber mafia set reportedly the area on fire at about 1:30pm and could be extinguished at 4:30 pm whereas dozens of partridges and quails were killed in the fire.

When asked, the officer said, “Don’t worry, the fire will be controlled soon”. He also said that the fire broke out because of a cigarette and it was not planned.

The protected forest areas in several parts of Pakistan such as Changa Manga, Azad Kashmir, Checha Watni and Perowal are vulnerable to illegal logging by the timber mafias in connivance with forest officials, local politicians, businesses and citizenry. Terrorist groups have also joined the nexus in these areas and it’s a means to fund their illegal activities.

Many studies indicate big losses of forest cover to indiscriminate logging by timber mafias, with over a million hectares have being illegally transferred by the forest department directly to industrial, mining and logging companies. Besides, the environmental degradation, public financial losses can be substantial, and 2004 estimate a loss of stolen timber in Changa Manga has increased to Rs 10 billion.