Hundreds of trees chopped down to widen Kohat-Hangu Road | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Hundreds of trees chopped down to widen Kohat-Hangu Road

Pakistan Press Foundation

PESHAWAR: Poor planning coupled with lack of coordination among various departments has led to the destruction of hundreds of trees after the Pakhtunkhwa Highways Authority started work on the widening of 24 kilometers road between Kohat and Hangu.

The Office of the Divisional Forest Officer in Kohat confirmed that 645 native and imported trees on both sides of the road were fallen, while 639 more trees had been marked for harvesting.

An official said trees on both sides of the highway were notified as protected forests.

PHA officials insist forest dept had planted trees without permission
Various species, including sheesham, wild mulberry and eucalyptus were planted along the road around two decades ago. Now, the authority is clearing young trees that would severely underestimate environmental impacts, said a conservator.

“Fresh plantation along the highway will take at least two to three decades to become mature because most of the species are slow growing,” the official said, while showing serious reservations about the cutting of green trees.

“Losses to the environment and provincial kitty can be prevented only through long term planning,” he said. But PHA officials said the department had planted trees without getting the authority’s permission, which was illegal.

Work on the dualisation of the highway from Sherkot to Hangu was started in October 2015 with an estimated cost of Rs1.5 billion and completion date is December 2018. A section of the highway passes through the area, which is famous for growing high quality of guavas.

The widening of Sherkot-Hangu section is part of the dualisation of the highway from Kohat to Thall Town adjacent to Kurram and North Waziristan Agencies. First phase of construction of dual carriageway from Kohat city to Sherkot had already been completed.

The PHA and forest department are in dispute over the removal of the trees on both sides of the road that caused delay in the project.

DFO Shakeel said his department would issue no objection certificate for cutting the remaining 639 trees only when the PHA showed progress on the previous work, where trees were chopped off.

The authority is asking for immediate harvesting of all trees to expedite work on the project.

A relevant engineer said the delay in issuance of NOC for cutting trees had slowed down the project.

“The authority has been waiting for NOC for the last six months,” he said.

Like the forest department, he said, telecommunication and power supply companies were also reluctant to remove their transmission lines from the thoroughfare.

Argument of the PHA officials is that the forest department had planted trees without seeking permission from the relevant department.

The official said rules and regulations of the PHA didn’t authorise any government or private entity to plant trees or build infrastructure 110 feet on either side of the road.

“The forest department is bound to obtain NOC from the authority before plantation,” he said.

The PHA officials, too, have reservations about the plantation of eucalyptus along the highway saying its roots caused damages to the foundation of the road.

“Planting trees close to the road is unsafe because it can be hazardous in accidents,” an official said.

He said the forest department planted species like eucalyptus on the authority’s properties just to show performance because the species grew rapidly.

Dawn