The real destroyers of Margalla Hills remain invincible

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 11, 2014.

The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration and Capital Development Authority (CDA), with support from the Punjab government, have once again promised to rid the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) of stone crushing units “very soon.”

But there is a catch.

The capital’s district and civic authorities said they cannot just yet stop a cement factory, which is quarrying in the MHNP with a valid ICT-issued lease, because of a legal hurdle.

CDA and ICT officials claimed Fecto cement’s activity is a sub-judice matter, despite an October 2013 Supreme Court order to stop all construction and quarrying activities in the Margalla Hills.

Due to the legal confusion surrounding the issue, the Senate sub-committee on environment decided to consult the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights about the apparent violation of the apex court’s order.

The committee, led by its convener Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, reached the decision during a workshop-cum-meeting at the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services on Monday.

Apart from getting a compliance report from ICT on stone crushers, the committee also launched a media manual on climate change at the workshop, with support from the German political foundation, Konrad Adenaur Stiftung.

Bashir Ahmad, ICT’s director for labour and industries, told senators and journalists at the workshop that ICT, CDA and the Punjab government have decided in principle to evict stone crushing units from the Islamabad and Rawalpindi sides of the Margalla Hills.

Stone crushing is not allowed in the MHNP, according to the Islamabad Wildlife Ordinance 1979.

But, over the past two decades, some two dozen crushers in the ICT territory and around 100 crushers in the Rawalpindi side of the MHNP, which are governed by the Punjab government, have laid the lush hills bare by mining for limestone.

For weeks now, the CDA and ICT have been telling the senate sub-committee on environment, which first took notice of illegal stone crushing units in February, they will remove the stone crushers. But in a February 24 meeting, CDA conveniently excused itself by shifting the blame on ICT.

“We are going to launch a joint operation against stone crushers very soon,” Ahmad said, adding that the Punjab government has agreed to relocate the stone crushers to alternative sites in Chakwal, Khushab, Mianwali and Attock.

But when it came to the big fish, the ICT official too appeared shifty.

Ahmad confirmed the ICT has not cancelled Fecto’s lease because, just as the cement factory survived a government crackdown against stone crushers in 1994, it had pre-empted eviction by moving the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

In fact, as CDA director environment Muhammad Irshad mentioned during the workshop, Fecto’s case has been pending in the IHC since 2009.

In its case, Fecto has disputed the official notification of the national park area and claimed its operations are being run on private land. In the interim, the cement factory, whose lease was renewed by ICT in 2011, also got a stay order for its operations.

“The CDA legal team has told us that the stay would have to be vacated before we can evict the cement factory,” the CDA director said.

Ahmad said Islamabad’s Chief Commissioner has given a direction to the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) to cut power supply to the stone crushers, even though IESCO is reluctant in following the direction because it says the electricity connections are legal.

From the officials’ testimonies, it was obvious that little or no meaningful action against stone crushers had taken place in the one month since the committee took notice of the issue.

However, Senator Sayed seemed stern when he told the officials that “violations of environmental laws will no longer be tolerated.”

Climate Change Guide for Journalists

As promised in its previous meeting, the sub-committee unveiled a 56-page manual to help journalists understand, and report better on issues related to, climate change. The manual introduces journalists to Pakistan’s climate change scenario and provides them explanations and definitions of climate concepts and terminology.

It includes tips about reporting on environmental and climate issues. The manual also mentions the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus programme, for which Pakistan has won a World Bank readiness grant.

Senator Afrasiyab Khattak, the chair of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights of which the environment sub-committee is a part, said there is a need for Pakistanis to enhance their worldview and entertain scientific concepts.

“We need to raise environmental awareness among our young generation,” Khattak said. “Media should also be kept in the loop and parliament and provincial assemblies should also be sensitized on environmental issues.”

Civil society representatives, the President of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry Shaban Khalid and senators suggested more public-private cooperation to prevent environmental degradation, introduction of environment as a subject in schools and implementation of environmental laws.

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