ISLAMABAD, Oct 22: Once praised as a green city, Islamabad’s environment is being degraded, even by professional bodies tasked to save it.

Invasion of the green areas is the most visible sign of the decline and, of all the places, the upscale Sector F-5 reveals the latest invasion.

There the Pakistan Engineering Council last year fenced off a portion of the wooded area opposite its building with barbed-wire and developed its car park. Over a year the park transformed into a solar energy park, with trees cut down. All this in the interest of conserving energy and the sun must shine on the solar panels for that.

And since the car park had to be moved, the Council occupied more wooded area.

All that the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) located nearby did was to wince at the activity.

Environmentalists with bigger concerns in their minds feel furious why the agency does not go beyond expressing concern and take legal action against those degrading the city’s environment.

“The agency takes notice only when projects are half way through, or even fully complete, when most damage has already been done,” said one environmentalist, pointing to the Zero Point Interchange which the Pak-EPA had stopped halfway to force the project managers to submit an environment impact report first.

Director-General, Pak-EPA, Asif Shuja, however, wished the critics knew how his office had been stripped of most of its powers and its jurisdiction limited to Islamabad after the famous devolution plan. He claims the most the agency can do now is to point out violations.

An official in the Ministry of Climate Change dismissed his claim as an excuse. “Pak-EPA can still serve notices and put its foot down where environment laws are being violated,” insisted the official.

In any case, what is obvious is that exploitation of the green areas has been increasing. It is visible from the Marriott Hotel to the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan Engineering Council buildings, all the way down to the State Bank of Pakistan and the Sir Syed Memorial in a highly-protected zone of the capital city.

They started with cordoning off small spaces in green areas to park official vehicles and as the security concerns grew so did the spaces and the barricades and security guards.

“One ponders over the civic authorities’ definition of the city’s green character when government and private offices have run over the green areas right under their noses,” the Pak-EPA DG said talking to Dawn.

Such activities would only increase and distort the green character, if not checked now, he added.

Environmentalists agree with the warning.

“Once an open space is designated for growing trees to keep Islamabad green, it should be protected. There was a time when the CDA environment wing used to take some action but now it does not even stir,” said environmentalist and artist Fauzia Minallah.

Green spaces of the city are exploited in other forms too, like CDA’s plan to allow an electricity grid station in F-9 Park for a multi-storey complex rising in the Blue Area.

Director Traffic Engineering CDA Azam Lodhi said parking lots in green spaces were “not a regulated activity” but revealed  that the Marriott Hotel was “the only building” that CDA was charging for using its open space for the purpose.

“These are only temporary arrangements,” he said when Dawn pointed out that CDA had permitted such use to other commercial and government buildings also.

“They are not permitted to cut down any tree. We plan to charge all the offices occupying open spaces for parking cars and will use the money on preserving the green patches,” he added.

Ramzan Sajid, spokesman for CDA, confirmed the plan. “They are afraid of allowing visitors’ cars inside their compound for security reasons,” he said, informing that in order to meet the parking requirements in the city, the CDA intended “to introduce the concept of paid parking”.

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