ISLAMABAD, Sept 16: La Montana, the most imposing among the high-class restaurants atop scenic Pir Sohawa, has been in business for nine months but has received a notice demanding compliance with the environment laws only now.
This weekend, the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) warned the restaurant management to submit it the mandatory Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report within seven days or face legal proceedings.
It could not be a serious threat, because it were taunts of “dereliction of duty” by environmentalists in the Ministry of Climate Change made the Pak-EPA stir from it slumber and fire the warning.
Officials explained to Dawn that Pak-EPA did not act against the illegalities because of its sad experience in the past. “We suffered a setback when the issue of Monal restaurant, could not be solved at the political level by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Environment,” Director General Pak-EPA Asif Shuja said.
La Montana has been built next to Monal in a part of the Margalla Hills National Park, which is a protected area where any building activity requires ‘no objection’ certificates from a host of government departments.
Monal’s construction had saddened MNA Farzeen Ahmad Sarfaraz who dealt with the issue when it was brought to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Environment and opposed the project.
“When the Committee passes a recommendation to the government, it should be, as a rule, followed as precedent,” said the former chairperson of the committee, who was critical of the political leadership too.
“They are bent upon destroying everything that makes Islamabad beautiful. Protected areas are not meant for chalets and restaurants,” she told Dawn. Pak-EPA is not the only protector of the Margalla Hills sleeping over environmental degradation, according to the Himalayan Wildlife Foundation, active in 14 valleys in the hills. “There is no doubt that mega projects at Pir Sohawa are ill-planned and creating garbage and disposal of waste water concerns,” said the foundation’s senior official M. Vaqar.
On its website, La Montana itself says that “restaurants produce far more garbage on a daily basis than most other retail business” and discloses that it consumes 800,000 gallons of water annually.
Sajjad Shah, director of the Capital Development Authority’s Environment Protection department, said the restaurant management still has to convince CDA how it will dispose-off its waste water. He said the construction of the restaurant was “started and completed without submitting the IEE and EIA reports”.
DG Pak-EPA Asif Shuja explained that under Section 12 of the Environment Protection Act 1997, the Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) and Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports have to be submitted “before starting any development project, big or small”.
“It had long been agreed that the CDA will conduct necessary environment assessments and also ensure that all private constructions/developments follow the law,” said Asif Shuja.
The law was no different for environmentally sensitive and the protected areas for the sake of averting adverse environmental effects, he added.
Under the Islamabad, Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation Ordinance 1979, only temporary structures are permitted for recreational facilities for visitors and no permanent concrete buildings at all. Spread over 17,386 hectares, the Margalla Hills were declared protected area in 1980.