March 6, 2013 – Islamabad – After almost two years of risking human lives at the Rawal Lake, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has finally found some sense.
CDA Parks Directorate officials said a notification was issued to the Lake View Park management on Tuesday asking it to close the boating area.
Lake View Park manager Muhammad Junaid Afzal confirmed to The Express Tribune he had received the order. “A steel fence will be put up to close access to the boating jetty of the Rawal Lake from the Park’s side,” Afzal said.
Boats were operating for the public illegally at the Lake without any safety precautions. The Park did not have any lifeguards and the boats were not equipped with life jackets.
Even an upper limit on the passenger capacity of the boats was not imposed.
In 2010, the Supreme Court had ordered a ban on motorboats and water scooters in the Rawal Lake. The motorized boats were polluting the water supplied by the Lake for human consumption. The diesel emissions, leaked oil and water churning action of the motorized boats all threatened the quality of the Lake’s drinking water.
The Supreme Court’s order did not extend to row boats, but the CDA withdrew all boat licenses right after the verdict.
That was two years ago.
However, since then, row boats and paddle boats have operated illegally, and with impunity, in the Rawal Lake while completely ignoring risks to human safety.
The boat men relied on their own boating experience and intuition. If that meant loading a dozen or more people on a shabby old boat for a few more rupees, they did not hesitate.
Not only did the CDA not have any way of dealing with a boating emergency, it did not have any way to catch the culprits.
“Without the licenses, there is no one to take responsibility of a boating accident,” Afzal said. “We cannot hold anyone accountable because we do not know the people who own and operate these boats.”
A photo of women sitting in a “paddle-cycle boat” at the Rawal Lake, with row boats operating in the background, published in The Express Tribune on March 4, 2012, raised concerns among some citizens including Enver Baig, former senator and now a member of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
“Every Sunday, tens of thousands of people visit the Park for recreation,” Senator Enver Baig said. “These people including children and young mothers go for boat rides but in case of an emergency, there are no lifeguards, not even ambulances.”
Baig said the boats need to be checked regularly to ensure they are fit for recreational use.
The CDA used to have a mechanism for boat inspection which was also scratched after the 2010 Supreme Court verdict.
The photo published in the Tribune also cautioned the authorities who have moved to prevent boating at the Lake.
The Lake View Park administration had put up a fence in the past, but the local boat men broke it and kept on rowing.
The park staff was too intimidated to stop them, then.
“The park’s unarmed security guards cannot take on the local boat men who own the row boats,” one Lake View Park officer, requesting anonymity, said. “We need police cover to enforce the ban on boats.”
The officer said Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) never responded to requests from the park administration for a police operation against the boat men.
He said the new fence will be in place by Wednesday morning, he said.
It remains to be seen whether the row boats will resurface illegally as they have done before or if CDA will come up some system that ensures human safety and boat monitoring in the future.