The Rakh Daima Forest in Rajanpur District consists of two sections: Rakh Daima North and Rakh Daima South. It features diverse tree species, such as safeda (southern blue gum or blue gum), keekar (gum arabic tree), and sheesham (Indian rosewood). The forest maintenance involves ten employees, with each section – North and South Rakh Daima – being monitored by four security guards. Additionally, one forester and one beldar are assigned to each section.
The total area of this forest is 34,701 acres and is divided into two parts. Rakh Daima North features plantations, contributing to its overall better condition. This section includes Daman, Kotla Aisan, Rakh Azmat Wala, Kot Mithan, and Kotla Hussain.
Rakh Daima encompasses the southern riverine areas, which include the riverine forests of Ragistan North, Thul Menghraj and the reserve forest of Kotla Sher Muhammad.
The forest area is steadily diminishing, a consequence not of natural processes but of years of illicit logging and theft. According to an official from the forest department, the forest area has shrunk from 42 square kilometres to 32 square kilometres within a few years.
Social activist Wajid Ali Bukhari says that wood theft from the forest is an ongoing issue, with the alleged complicity of forest department employees. According to Bukhari, the forest guards facilitate the theft by accepting a portion of the proceeds.
According to official records, labourers employed for cleaning the forest are remunerated at Rs 18,000. However, Muhammad Asim claims to have been working in the forest for the past five years without ever receiving payment for his services.
“I imprint my thumb on the voucher every month, and in return, I am authorised to cut wood. I sell it, and it sustains my household.”
Asim says that the forest wood is sold for lakhs, and various types of furniture are crafted from it and sold at premium prices. Garbage gathered from this area is sold for Rs30,000 to Rs40,000, and leaves are sold at Rs25,000 per trolley.
These waste materials and leaves are utilised for burning in brick kilns. According to him, the income generated is not documented anywhere.
Forest Officer Muhammad Bilal of Rakh Daima dismisses the accusations of wood theft as unfounded.
Speaking to Lok Sujag, he mentions that the labourers, farmers, and workers living nearby collect the dead leaves and fallen branches from the forest for burning in their stoves, and this is not prohibited. However, he emphasises that if anyone is found involved in stealing wood, appropriate legal action is taken against them.
He says that the government fines individuals involved in wood theft, and the fines collected are deposited into the government treasury. If someone persists in such activities, a First Information Report (FIR) is filed against them, and they are subjected to legal consequences.
According to police records, 53 cases against wood thieves were registered in 2021, 46 in 2022, and 34 cases have been recorded so far this year, with corresponding fines imposed. As per the police, the court determines the penalties, and the collected amounts are deposited into the government treasury, as per the police information.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Muhammad Sharif from Rajanpur Police Station tells Lok Sujag that measures are taken to curb wood theft due to the forest’s special significance. However, he says that the local residents, who are mostly economically disadvantaged, often engage in wood collection despite these efforts.
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In response to a question, he says that all past cases were filed against outsiders, and no government officials were apprehended.
On the other hand, an official from the forest department says that two employees who were suspended for involvement in wood theft were later reinstated.
Forest Officer Rajanpur, Faraz Ahmed, says that he has taken disciplinary action and dismissed a guard from employment too. “Penalties have also been imposed according to government regulations”. However, Ahmed declined to provide details of the penalty amounts.
“New strategies are being developed to improve the security system; the damage that has been done cannot be repaired. We are trying to avoid further damage. The situation of wood theft has been controlled to a great extent now.”
Lawyer Abdul Majeed Bizenjo says that very few individuals accused of stealing wood are arrested, and those who are are often bailed.
“Most convicts get released after paying a fine of a few thousand rupees and subsequently resume wood theft.”
Published on 6 Dec 2023