MCI and CDA continue to pass blame on each other
ISLAMABAD: Wild forest fires in Margalla Hills have become a regular occurrence and have erupted four times in this month alone. This has reduced hundreds of acres of pristine land and flora to cinders.
While officials at Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) and Capital Development Authority (CDA) are busy passing blame at each other, root causes of these fires remain a mystery.
According to one theory, the presence of powerful timber mafia allegedly backed by influential people in the Capital is behind these forest fires.
“It is this mafia and its backers who first cut down the trees and then to cover their footprints they set the whole empty tract on fire that later on spreads to hundreds of acres,” said an official on strict condition of anonymity. The assertion made by the officer has takers in common citizenry as well. “Everybody can see what is at work here,” said Uzair Rasool, a real estate developer and avid hiker. “They sell the trees, clear the land, set it on fire and deceive us all,” he added,
Quite interestingly, once the forest fire erupts it takes days to put it out. Last month, the fire on Margalla Hills could not be put out completely even after two days despite empty claims of CDA authorities of stamping out the fire. The fire expanded towards nearby villages and had reached near Trail 5, and Naval Headquarters before firemen along with helicopters from the armed forces helped in curbing it.
Around 150 CDA forest officials, along with help from volunteers took part to douse the fire but archaic fire-fighting techniques impacted the efforts.
That, however, is one understanding of the probable causes behind forest fire. Some people believe that the locals, who are hired during the months of May, June and July when forest fire are most likely to happen, in their bid to ensure more remunerations and a steady income set the trees on fire as then CDA would require their services all year round.
When contacted for a comment, Emergency and Disaster Management Directorate Director Zafar Iqbal said that it is not the duty of his directorate to curb forest fires. “Margalla Hills National Park comes under the jurisdiction of CDA’s Environment Directorate and they are fully prepared and equipped to combat forest fires,” he said. He also added that his department is willing to support and help when asked but primarily the responsibility lies squarely with the environment directorate.
It is pertinent to mention here that since the bifurcation of CDA and its key directorates going to Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad, the blame game between MCI and CDA has intensified.
Zafar Iqbal was also of the view that one can never rule out the involvement of locals in setting fire. “We have the machinery and the manpower, however, due to lack of access and roads it becomes impossible to reach the source of fire on time,” he lamented.
CDA Environment Director Irfan Niazi, when contacted, said that the time period between April 15th and August 15th is considered to be the peak time when forest fires are most likely to happen. “This year, however, the fires started to erupt earlier.”
“Now, we have recruited 200 locals to guard the Margalla Hills and take prompt measures to stop the wildfire from spreading,” he added.
He also said that his directorate with will play its full role to save the beauty of Margalla Hills.
Margalla Hills National Park is an expansive tract of land at the foothills of the greater Himalayas, along with Shakarparian Park and Rawal Lake.
Established in 1980, Margalla Hills National Park covers approximately 17,386 hectares or 67.13 square miles. The park is rich in biodiversity, especially in Sino-Himalayan fauna and flora.