Local elders in Mansehra have raised concerns over the Wildlife Department’s decision to designate Saif ul Maluk and Lulusar as national parks. They allege that despite completing projects worth billions of rupees from international organizations, the move has not benefited the local community or the area.

According to the elders, granting national park status to such a vast area has economic and cultural implications. They claim that the provincial government’s policy is leading to the displacement of people in the Kamal Ban Kaghan Valley. This, coupled with economic hardships, is forcing them into homelessness.

A delegation of local elders expressed their grievances to the media, asserting that the provincial government’s decision is detrimental to the well-being of the local population. They accuse the Wildlife Department of exploiting both people and wildlife for monetary gain. They cited previous instances where projects worth billions of rupees were initiated, but neither the local community nor wildlife reaped the benefits, and their conditions worsened.

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The local residents are demanding an impartial survey and inquiry into the existing national parks in Hazara. They want to assess the impact of these national parks on biodiversity and the economic and cultural lifestyle of the people.

Kamal Ban and Malkundi are already reserved forests that have served the needs of the people for centuries. They have contributed significantly to the local economy and forest management. The Tehsil Council unanimously passed a resolution against designating Kamal Ban and Malkundi as national parks. They called for the withdrawal of the notification to enable local residents to lead better lives.

Most of Kamal Ban and Malkundi are forested areas, and without them, people have no source of livelihood. The delegation has requested the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Chief Secretary, and Forest Secretary to terminate the National Park project. Alternatively, they argue that if the government proceeds, the forests should be returned to their rightful owners, as they were initially entrusted to the British government for economic management while safeguarding local rights.

Critics deem the decision to declare Kamal Ban and Malkundi as National Parks unwise and against public interest. They emphasize that projects should not adversely affect the local population. Concerns over economic hardships and loss of rights have prompted calls for accountability within the Wildlife Department.

Tehsil Nazim Syed Ibrahim Shah urged the provincial government to implement the Tehsil Council’s resolution promptly, while Alauddin Khan, President of the Forest Association, pointed out that local residents were not consulted when converting the reserve forest into a national park. They stress that indigenous people’s rights are protected by Forest Laws and Hazara Gazetteer.

Kamal Ban VC Abrar Ahmed Khan warned of potential public unrest and strong protests if the government does not reconsider its decision.