In 1868, the hill forests of Murree and Kahuta near the capital city of Islamabad were richly populated with a diversity of flora and fauna. The human and cattle populations at the time were very low, and the requirements of timber and grazing were met without any hindrance. Thereafter, both the human and livestock populations increased. Giving them rights for grazing and timber in return for their assured co-operation in preventing incendiary fires regulated the rights and concessions of the villagers. This was sanctioned in 1886 by a decree from the British rulers of India. These rights included a free grant of three mature coniferous trees every five years to each individual. Whereas the forests have remained stationary, the population increased from 8413 households (in 1913) to 30,000 households (in 1952) and 130,000 households (in 1997). Proportionately the livestock heads have also increased. This increase in livestock has resulted in the extermination of the majority of broad-leaved species for which no rules were framed.
At the time when this right was admitted, available records show that only 1680 trees were required under this decree in 1868. Presently the forests can provide only 2000 to 3000 dead and dry trees against an annual demand of 26,000 by the right holders. Thus, the Forest Department is able to supply trees to 5 % of the registered right holders. Section 23 of the Forest Act of 1927 prohibits the transfer of rights in any way, except by inheritance. Yet, this clause is unable to mitigate the pressure on the forests. This is because the human population in Murree and Kahuta has increased tremendously over the last fifty years. The monetary value of trees granted as haqdari to the local population is estimated at Rs. 30 million annually.
The burden on the forests has been partly reduced due to the increased use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and kerosene oil in the area since the early eighties. To further mitigate the pressure on the hill forests, the Forest Department is also supplying 1200 metric tons of firewood at subsidised rates from the irrigated plantations of Mianwali and Gujrat. However, the pressure on timber is increasing and the forests can no longer bear the weight of an increase in population. There is a need to reduce haqdari pressure by reducing the rights, if not outright cancelling them. The entire local population no longer avails the concessions granted 100 years back, since many are away in their jobs down country and others use modern construction materials like cement and reinforced cement concrete (RCC). These concessions have now mostly been commercialised and most of the land, either full or part thereof, has been sold to immigrants from down country and estate developers. The new settlers legally cannot enjoy the legal right of haqdari due to the provision in the Forest Act of 1927, which prohibits the transfer of rights except via inheritance.
These mountains are the watersheds of Punjab’s major water reservoirs, and simultaneously the water recharge zones for down country aquifers. The excessive exercise of grazing and timber rights and the development of housing colonies on communal lands have threatened the complete collapse of the ecosystem. There is a need to put a halt to this situation and regulate these rights in the changed scenario. Politically, the democratic government is not in a position to eliminate the haqdari rights nor are the people willing to do so. A major intervention is required to break the impasse and find a win-win solution to this environmental flashpoint. Until now, no solution has been attempted. The imposition of a ban on the felling of green trees as discussed in Chapter 4 is the only exception.
Distribution of Benefits in the High Hill Forests of NWFP
Most of the high hill forests of Pakistan are located in the NWFP. These are productive forests with commercial, social and protective roles. The local communities are highly dependent on various products from forest resources. The distribution of rights and privileges play a greater role in the conservation and development of the forests. In the NWFP, these rights are based on the tenure system. There are three categories of forests: reserved, protected, and guzara.
Reserved forests are government-owned and provide minimum rights and privileges to the local communities. Although locals do not have the rights of free grazing, firewood collection, and timber, unofficially they receive these benefits. However, they are not entitled to any share from the commercial sale of trees. This situation hinders the co-operation of the local communities and discourages them from the sustainable development of resources. Realising this crucial issue, the Forest Department is working for the joint management of the forest. This is through the Siren Valley Project. Under this project, the local communities will be entitled to firewood, fodder and timber for the construction of houses. The communities will in turn, play a more active role in forest protection and development. In this regard, the Forest Department has made a change in the Forest Act by including community participation. This concept is in its initial stages, but has enlisted the greater support of the community for forest protection. If adopted on a large scale, it will be a good step towards the equitable distribution of benefits, and will lead towards sustainable forest management.
The second category of forests is the guzara forests in Hazara district. These forests are privately owned, where the government receives 20% of the commercial sale proceeds from tree harvesting operations. The owners receive the remaining 80% of the revenue. In this category, the non-right holders can collect firewood, and fodder, but are not entitled to any share in the royalties. This type of arrangement requires adjustments since it is skewed. The joint forest management strategy can also work in this system.
In the Malakand division of NWFP, the forests have been declared protected forests. These forests belong to the government, but the locals have rights. They are allowed to graze animals, collect firewood, other minor forest produce and obtain timber for the construction of houses. They are entitled to a 60% share in the commercial sale of trees. The future distribution of royalty shares is undertaken amongst the tribes based on prevailing rules and regulations. Although this is an effective system, locals do not feel responsible for forest protection. In order to involve the local community in forest management and protection, a number of initiatives were taken by the Kalam Integrated Development Project. These include the preparation of participatory management plans, the formation of forest protection committees, the training of locals in the environment friendly scientific harvesting of trees. This also includes the elimination of outsiders (timber mafia)45 in the purchase and over-harvesting of their forests.