The devastated, doomed side of Margalla Hills


-Margalla Hills, barring areas that come under National Park adjacent to Islamabad, endangered by stone crushing, quarrying and blasts

ISLAMABAD: Margalla Hills National Park is for many denizens an oasis amidst the busy, anxiety-filled routine life of Islamabad. While, hundreds of people enjoy the scenic beauty that various hiking trails offer for free, behind the breathtaking facade of Margalla Hills that touch the poshest sectors of Islamabad like F-6, F-7, and E-7, stares a dark reality where stone crushing and illegal construction are part of the days’ order.

The hills come under two jurisdictions. A major chunk comes under the domain of Margalla Hills National Park Authority (MHNPA), while the remaining is managed by the Punjab Government’s Department of Mining (PUNJMIN).

It is pertinent to mention here that based on this distinction, two judgments about stone crushing in Margalla Hills were issued by the Supreme Court (SC) back in 2015. The first one, given by Justice Jawad S Khawaja had placed a blanket ban on all kinds of crushing and quarrying in and around Margalla Hills, irrespective of whether they come under Islamabad or Punjab’s jurisdiction.

A three-member bench led by Justice Khawaja ordered the concerned authorities to ban crushing plants from further blasting and quarrying.

The SC took action after the plight of environmental degradation was raised by civil society, segments of media and environmental activists.

On the directions of SC, the city managers decided to halt stone crushing in the hills and identify the responsible culprits. “Islamabad Wildlife Protection and Conservation Ordinance prohibit any commercial activity in the Margalla Hills National Park,” read the court’s order.

Four months later, a bench led by Chief Justice (CJ) Anwar Zaheer Jamali reversed the order and permitted crushing and quarrying in reserved forests under the Punjab Govt Department of Mining. The main consideration behind the decision was economically motivated, ignoring environmental hazards as the CJ paid due heed to govt officials’ contention that the mined rocks and limestone are of pristine quality and direly needed for development projects all over Pakistan.

As a result, the court in its final order allowed blasting, crushing, mining, and quarrying in 53 blocks of Margalla Hills. This practice which continues to date.

While talking to Pakistan Today, Capital Development Authority (CDA) Director Enforcement Irfan Niazi said that the crushing is underway in areas of Margalla Hills that are under the jurisdiction of the Punjab Govt. “The Department of Mining has given licenses to mine. Since they are reserved forests and do not come under protected land, stringent rules do not apply to them. It is permissible to salvage produce from reserved forests,” he stated.

Niazi said that the Environment Protection Agency’s permission is required before mining, quarrying is to be undertaken.

While travelling from Islamabad to Peshawar, one witnesses mountains being sliced, diced, blasted, and reduced to smithereens so that growing housing and construction demands of the burgeoning populace are fulfilled. The question for the capital’s dwellers is whether they want to own their city or remain spectators to their ruin.

Commonly referred to as Margalla, the 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, the 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.