Rights body asks forest dept to move against mafias -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Rights body asks forest dept to move against mafias cutting trees in Thar

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: The Sindh Human Rights Commission (SHRC), run by the provincial government, has asked the forest ministry to take action against the mafias incessantly cutting trees in Thar, adding to the hardships of the desert district already facing a drought-like situation, it emerged on Tuesday.

The commission on Tuesday sent a letter to the secretary of the provincial forest ministry in which the SHRC asked the ministry to take notice of the illegal cutting of trees in Thar district.

“[Such an illegal activity is being] carried out by certain ill-motivated activists, who then transport wood to aara [saw] machines in bulk quantity on a daily basis,” said the SHRC communique.

“…this would lead to dire and disastrous consequences for the populace considering the climatic conditions of a drought-stricken region.”

Officials in the provincial home ministry said they had imposed a ‘complete ban’ on illegal cutting of trees and extraction of gum from the Guggul trees in Tharparkar district in January. However, the ban was imposed till April 30 for reasons best known to the officials.

Sources said once the ban was officially lifted, the mafias increased their operations in the district, which has already been in the limelight for death of hundreds of children because of malnutrition and scarcity of food and fodder for livestock because of the drought-like conditions.

Officials at the World Conservation Union (IUCN) said the Guggul tree was apparently an unassuming shrub that dotted the deserts and hills in Thar but held immense medicinal value.

“It has been used in Ayurveda, a system of Hindu traditional medicine, for centuries and even today, its resin (gum extract) is used to treat skin diseases, arthritis, lipid disorders and obesity,” said an expert.

Guggul trees are mainly found in Sindh in this part of the world and have presence in Jamshoro district, the Kirthar mountain range and Thar desert.

Experts said the resin extracted in Sindh had the highest percentage of Guggulsterone, (a plant steroid used in many nutritional supplements), making it the best that is produced in Asia.

The SHRC asked the forest ministry to take prompt action against “this grave human rights violation”. “It is to ensure sanction on the involved, who despite the imposition of Section 144 of the Pakistan Penal Code have continued with their immoral and unlawful activity,” said the commission.

The forest ministry has been asked to furnish its comments and report to the commission on the matter urgently.

Sources in the provincial government said the cutting of trees in Thar had serious political dimensions, which was equally benefiting the influential sitting on both sides of the fence.

“There is no difference between the influential people of the area whether they belong to the government or sitting on the opposition seats when it comes to earn money at the expense of Thar’s beauty and environmental value,” said a civil society activist residing in Thar.

Sources said the gum produced from Guggul tree was being sold by those lording the district with impunity. “They sell the gum in the markets of Karachi and Hyderabad and earn Rs30,000 per 40 kilograms,” said an activist from the area.

Residents said police and local officials of the forest department were equally involved in the racket.

“Instead of stopping such practices, the police and forest officials have fixed their rates to allow it to the influential individuals and mafias to do it without fear,” said a resident.