ISLAMABAD: The garbage and sewage waste dumping by different restaurants and food chains operating in the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) have been posing serious risk to wildlife and biodiversity of the protected area.
Different hotels and recreational spots established in this national park, with their number mounting every passing day are gradually eating up beauty of the area making nature lover to think that why a proper mechanism is not devised for disposing of waste generated by these outlets.
Forming the foothill of Himalayan Mountain Range and sprawling over 17,000 hectare land, the Margalla Hills National Park is rich in wildlife and ecology and is home to the endangered common Asian Leopards, Barking Deer, Wolves, Pangolin, Kalij Pheasants and flora and fauna that are indigenous and unique in existence.
It is also one of attractive tourist spots and source of amusement for the federal capital residents for its zigzagging road leading to Pir Sohawa and beyond, walking tracks, tall pines and small brooks.
But, rapid urbanization in Federal Capital and areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa adjoining the national park had stirred a competition of development. In recent years, we have seen that under the garb of promoting tourism, 17 restaurants and 20 shops have been constructed at six different locations namely Damn-e-Koh Viewpoint, Damn-e-Koh Road, Saidpur Village, Pir Sohawa, Mandla and Nurpur (Lohay Dandi Track).
These restaurants include Dhaba at Damn-e-Koh, Sunshine Resort, Refreshment Centre, Maryam Tuck Shop, Subhan Tuck Shop, View Point Shop, Cool Bite Tuck Shop, View Point Shop, Wild Mild Restaurant at Damn-e-Koh Road, Des Pardes, Charsi Tikka, Dera Shinwari Restaurants at Saidpur Village, Monal, La Montana restaurants, Gloria Jeans Coffee Shop, Tuck Shops in Parking of Monal/ La Montana, and Babu Huts at Pir Sohawa besides ten shops each established at Mandla and Nurpur.
No matter even if these settlements had been issued NoC by concerned authorities, most of them do not have proper waste disposal system and it is directly thrown into Margalla’s forest, its vicinity or the water courses within the park.
“Many of these restaurants were established without any Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and their unmanaged anthropogenic intervention was damaging environment,” said Rina Saeed Khan, Chairperson, Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB). “Especially, two side by side lavish settlements at Pir Sohawa, were the main source of polluting margalla forest and springs.”
“The natural area being polluted by La Motana, Wild Mild and Das Pardes restaurants is conspicuous as their catchment area below had heaps of garbage and swathes of polluted water mingling with freshwater bodies,” Rina Saeed claimed.
Rina Saeed said, after concerted efforts and litigation, the Board had been successful to get a landmark verdict against the restaurants from Islamabad High Court (IHC). The IHC had directed to stop further encroachments to protect national park also declaring the construction of buildings and leases granted to hotels and other commercial and food outlets within the protected area as in violation of the respective CDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ordinances.
“We had approached CDA for implementation of the decision but to no vain. Meanwhile, the apex court granted stay order to Monal restaurant against the IHC verdict. Now, as the matter is with the apex court, we are waiting for decision to proceed further,” Rina Saeed said.
She also claimed that flood lights installed by Monal Restaurant were distracting the nocturnal animals and other species forcing them to give up their habitats. “Moreover, traffic jams and honking of vehicles was also restricting crossover for species, already fearing extinction.”
When contacted to comment on the situation, the CDA spokesperson stated that environmental protection was not their responsibility. “We owe the responsibility of maintaining roads, parking areas and their cleanliness. Other issues like protection of wildlife, habitat and walking tracks pertain to Pak-EPA.”
Even if one agrees with this argument of CDA, the Authority cannot deny of possessing the powers to grant No Objection Certificate for construction of settlements in its jurisdiction including the national park. Therefore, apparently it had allowed these hotels to carry out business in national park and protected area.
Meanwhile, when the Pak-EPA was approached to comment on the issue, its officials said that Pak-EPA had not issued NOC to any entity for construction within the national park jurisdiction. “The land belonged to CDA and it was responsible for protecting it.”
“On our part, we have already moved against La Montana and Gloria Jeans and these cases are pending before the Environmental Protection Tribunal in Federal Capital,” the official said. “The IWMB had identified over a dozen illegal restaurants and shops built in Margalla Hills National Park and the EPA has issued notices to them.”
The officials mentioned to an IHC verdict in another case pertaining to building a sailing club in national park directing to demolish it and said, the action was in progress in light of the court orders. “If action can be taken against this club, they why not against other illegally constructed restaurants and settlements.”
He said it was not the matter of margalla hills alone but of our whole nation. “We cannot deprive our coming generation from achieving sustainable development goals through ill-planned practices.”
We realize it or not, the National Park has gained international attraction after declaring some of its portion as “Leopard Preserve Zone” – one of its own kind – hosting endangered Common Asian Leopards close to a human settlement.
Protection of natural assets like wildlife, habitat and flora and fauna is our shared responsibility and the departments concerned cannot shy away simply by passing the buck.