PESHAWAR: The austerity drive of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is likely to sweep away wildlife department as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa environment department has moved a summary to merge it with the forest department.
Minister for Environment Syed Mohammad Ishtiaq said that summary regarding merger of the two departments was forwarded to chief minister and chief secretary on Friday last. The cabinet will approve the summary. He said that merger of Forest Development Corporation with forest department was also on the cards to avoid overlapping and streamline the affairs.
“The purpose of merger of the two departments is to save resources and share responsibilities among employees to protect forests as well as wildlife,” the minister told Dawn.
Proposal shocks wildlife conservators
The wildlife department was set up in 1995. Before, it was functioning under the umbrella of forest department in the name of ‘game wing’. The government will amend the relevant laws for merger of the two departments.
The environment department’s proposal shocked wildlife conservators, who termed the move “very damaging” for the management of wildlife in the province.
“This decision will affect wildlife management,”’ said Dr Mumtaz Malik, former chief conservator and founder of the department. He added that wildlife would go back to zero after merger of the two departments.
“A department, which got national and international recognitions and introduced activities like trophy hunting of wild species, established national parks, wildlife parks and conservancies, is being abolished in the name of merger,” he said.
An expert associated with an international conservation body said that wildlife would lose its identity and specialised staff if an established department was abolished. “The government should not wind up an established department,” he said, adding that those two disciplines were separated in 1970s.
More than 1,000 employees of the wildlife department would be put at the disposal of forest department. In addition, the post of chief conservator of wildlife department would stand abolished after the merger.
The department is currently managing seven national parks including Lulusar-Dudipatsar, Chitral Gol, Broghil Valley, Ayubia, Saiful Muluk and Sheikh Badin. Setting up of national parks not only improved natural habitats but also moved some rare species like snow leopard and markhor from the endangered to vulnerable categories with the support of local communities.
If cabinet approves the merger, chief conservator forests will look after both flora and fauna in the province including thousands of hectors of national parks, wildlife parks, conservancies, game reserves and wetlands etc. The post of chief conservator of wildlife will also be dissolved, according to the summary.
The previous government of PTI had made a comprehensive law called Wildlife and Biodiversity (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act, 2015. Forest and wildlife operate under the umbrella of environment department. The previous government had announced three more national parks in the province.
Minister Ishtiaq said that the merger would not only save resources, but would also resolve the issue of duplication. He expected over Rs30 million saving for the government annually after merger of the two departments. “The problem is that employees of the two departments evade responsibilities and ignore offences in their areas of jurisdiction,” he said.
He said that officials of the wildlife remained indifferent when they came across any forest-related offences during duty and same was the case with forest staff in connection with wildlife offences.
But officials disagreed with the minister’s remarks and alleged that some vested interests in the forest department were trying to increase “grazing area” for themselves in the name of merger. They said that forest and wildlife were two different subjects, which required specialised expertise and qualifications and experts in forestry did not understand wildlife.
“How a department (forest), which can’t protect forests, will look after wildlife and its attached sectors,” questioned an official. He said that wildlife department had prosecuted over 62 offences in various courts for violation in Ayubia National Park as more than 200 cases were reported in other national parks of the province.