Poaching rises at Pakistani reserve as unpaid wildlife wardens walk off the job

Wildlife wardens, who derive from local communities, pose for a photo at Chitral Gol National Park in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, on August 20, 2019. (Photo courtesy: Chitral Gol National Park)
Short Url
Updated 23 October 2020

Poaching rises at Pakistani reserve as unpaid wildlife wardens walk off the job

  • Chitral Gol National Park in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is home to the Kashmir markhor and other vulnerable species
  • Salaries of wildlife watchmen who oversee the park have been not been paid for the last one year 

ISLAMABAD: Incidents of illegal logging and poaching of the endangered Kashmir markhor, Pakistan’s national animal, have been on the rise at the country’s largest reserve as watchmen have refused to show up for work at the wildlife sanctuary over unpaid salaries.

Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) was established in 1984 and spreads over 77.5 square kilometers in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The sanctuary is home to the large markhor goat, snow leopards and other vulnerable species.

In 2000, the park began recruiting wildlife wardens from local communities to protect the reserve from poachers. The scheme worked well and in the past two decades the markhor population has increased manifold and illegal logging of the endemic evergreen Himalayan cedar tree (deodar) has also been kept in check.

“All the time I roamed around to keep an eye so that no one should harm markhor or cut deodar trees,” Bashir Khan, a watchman who has been working at the park for the past eight years, told Arab News.

The entrance of Chitral Gol National Park on June 8, 2020. The park in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is home to the large goat, snow leopards and other vulnerable species. (Photo courtesy: Chitral Gol National Park)

But for a year now, Khan said, he and other wardens had not received their salaries, which had forced them to boycott work.

“Along with other 11 community watchmen I have not been paid for last one year,” he said. “My salary is Rs15,000 ($92) only, but still not paid.”
 With the watchmen away, poaching incidents have become more frequent.

“We have arrested some people and also put heavy fines on others for illegal hunting during last few months in CGNP,” the CGNP’s divisional wildlife officer, Sarmad Hussain Shah, said. He said the markhor population in the Chitral Gol area had increased from 400 to 4,000 last year, with community watchmen playing a key role in protecting the threatened mountain goat from illegal hunting.

“We have around 45 people, including the community watchers, to look after this park.” Shah said. “They were very helpful in managing, conservation and protection in the park.

”The community participation program was launched under the Protected Areas Management Project (PAMP) in 2000, CGNP Association chairman Alamzeb Advocate told Arab News.

“PAMP ended in 2007 and to continue protection of the park, the federal government established an endowment fund, Fund for Protected Areas (FPA) with Rs220 million, in 2009,” he said.

But FPA has not released any funds for the last year, and so the watchmen have gone unpaid. 

The nearly threatened Kashmir markhor, a large goat species native to Kashmir and northern Pakistan, is seen at Chitral Gol National Park (CGNP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, on February 8, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Chitral Gol National Park)

Ironically, the negligence coincides with the introduction of Green Stimulus, a new government program approved in May, which aims to increase the coverage of protected areas in Pakistan from 12 to 15 percent and create jobs in the conservation sector.

“On the one hand, the government has expressed a commitment to increase protected areas as part of its Green Stimulus package, while on the other side they are creating hurdles in a successful project by freezing its funds,” FPA chairman and former provincial chief conservator Muhammad Mumtaz Malik told Arab News.

“The money is there in the bank, but federal government-appointed chief executive is not convening the meeting of FPA board, without which funds cannot be withdrawn,” he said.

Malik said the huge park had already been forced to reduce the number of community watchers from 28 to 11 despite the “amazing results” achieved by them.

“I have written to chief executive FPA and federal secretary climate change ministry, but they haven’t responded yet,” he said. “This was a landmark project, as for the very first time the management of national parks involved communities within and around the protected areas and it has produced amazing results.”

According to Muhammad Suleyman Khan Warraich, interim chief executive of the FPA, the salaries of wildlife wardens had been deferred due to issues at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and other company-related matters.

“We are resolving it,” he said, “and soon it will be settled.”

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.