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Radio Pakistan Timber Sale Draws Scrutiny

In an effort to offset rising debts, the state-run broadcaster harvested thousands of trees

An inquiry into the cutting of trees at Radio Pakistan facilities near Islamabad is now the subject of a governmental inquiry.

The state-run Pakistan Broadcasting Corp., looking for ways to raise money in the face of growing budget deficits, devised a plan in February 2021 to harvest trees on property it holds across the country. The timber sales would help offset the broadcaster’s accumulated liabilities of nearly 1 billion Pakistani rupees ($4.8 million).

Previously, in October 2020, PBC’s Radio Pakistan dismissed 749 contract employees to help address its financial woes.

Above: Satellite imagery of a Radio Pakistan site in southwestern Rawalpindi from December 2021. Below: The same site in May 2022. (via Google Earth)

The timber sale plan began with the removal of some 3,600 trees from Radio Pakistan sites in Rawalpindi and Peshawar, and PBC had begun advertising similar harvests at sites across the country.

In May 2022, Senator Irfan Siddiqui first raised questions about the harvest and sale of 1,500 trees from Radio Pakistan sites in Rawalpindi. He noted that some 2.5 acres of land had been cleared and that the timber was sold for 700,000 rupees ($3,350).

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Siddiqui belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Party, which was voted into power in April 2022 after Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party lost a no-confidence vote. The timber sales were organized under the PTI’s oversight.

Siddiqui questioned whether or not appropriate legal clearances had been received for the timber sale, noting that they came at a time the PTI government was promoting its Ten Billion Tree Tsunami effort to restore ecosystems and mitigate climate change.

In June 2022, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb called for an investigation into the timber sale to ensure the price received was fair, approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency and Ministry of Climate Change were secured, and an appropriate number of replacement trees were planted for each tree removed.

“We will determine those responsible for the act and take action according to law,” stated Aurangzeb, according to Pakistan Observer. “How the precious trees were cut down amidst the Billion Tree Tsunami claims, the facts will be brought to the notice of the nation.”

According to The News International, PBC officials stated that the PBC director general was authorized to make the decision regarding the timber sale without consolation of other agencies. The Urdu-language Khabrian TV further reported that PBC officials defended the harvest by saying the trees were “useless trees” and that more than 300 saplings had already been planted to replace the felled trees. Additional replacement trees are to be planted during the monsoon season.