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Relatives of CM, opposition leader given sapling contracts

By Manzoor Ali 2016-05-05
PESHAWAR: The PTI government has contracted more than 50 people, including the relatives of the chief minister, opposition leader, chief secretary and other politicians, to supply one million saplings each for its Billion Tree Tsunami programme in the province, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Forestry secretary Syed Nazar Hussain Shah justified the award of these contracts during a news conference at his ofñce here on Wednesday saying these people were approached following the initial reluctance on part of general public to provide their lands for the provincial government`s flagship afforestation initiative launched in Feb 2015.

The issue came to the fore following the transfer of Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) director Ziaullah Toru, who had been investigating the alleged irregularities in the Billion Tree Tsunami programme for few months.

Mr. Toru`s transfer, which took place on May 2, came amid reports of his differences with the chief sec-retary and was immediately linked with investigation into the afforestation programme.

The secretary told reporters that special assistant to KP chief minister for prison Malik Qasim Khattak, a cousin of chief minister Pervez Khattak, opposition leader Maulana Lutfur Rehman, revenue minister Ali Amin Gandapur and the brother of KP chief secretary Amjad Ali Khan were among over 50 people contracted to plant over one million saplings each.

He said during the first year of the programme, the department had planned to give 50 percent of saplings to private nurseries and 50 percent to government nurseries.

Mr. Shah said during the first year, the department managed to give only 23 percent of saplings to private parties as people were not ready to provide their land to government due to the credibility issues.

`The people were not even ready to provide their barren lands to the government for sapling plantations,` he said.

The secretary said the department asked all and sundry in the province, including chief minister, speaker, cabinet ministers, assembly members and councillors, to help department arrange land to set up nurseries for the subsequent sapling plantations.

He said the ACE director was illegally residing in a forest department bungalow on the premises of the FMC Colony and when he was issued notice to vacate the house, he started investigating theprogramme.

`Mr. Toru was not only person to be issued with e v i c t i o n notices; rather, there were 16 others whowere also issued notices,` Mr. Shah said.

Mr. Shah said thereafter, Mr. Toru started to defame this important programme, which was launched with good intent.

He said the Billion Tree Tsunami was most successful programme and third party valuation has also showed about 95 percent sapling survival rate. He said that a total of 500 million sapling figure will be reached by this December.

He said that the department has also encircled about 3.500 mountainous sites each of 50 to 1000 hectares and was planting native species on these sites.

He said that department will plant about 500 million saplings during 2017 to meet billion tree goal and another 100-200 million saplings will be planted during 2018.

When contacted, Mr. Toru said the investigation which he undertook at the request for forestry minister predated the eviction notice issued to him.

He said the things started to go wrong, when he raided the house` of chief secretary brother in connection with Billion Tree Tsunami investigations.

Mr. Toru alleged that the department had given contract of planting one million trees to the chief secretary`s brother in violation of the project PC-1 and that he was about to provide one million more saplings, which he stopped.

He said that other people in Mardan and other areas were running from pillar to post to get over 5,000 sapling contracts, while a single person was contracted for 1 million saplings.

`There is no issue with a million saplings being allotted to apersonin the barren southern KP. However, doing so in fertile Mardan and other neighbouring areas is an injustice with thousands of local residents, he said.