ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: Despite environmental concerns against stone crushers for gnawing the Margalla Hills, the capital territory administration extended the lease of a private company for quarrying in the area, it has been learnt.

The office of Chief Commissioner Islamabad Tariq Pirzada issued the extension letter to the private company for continuing quarrying in Margalla Hills in December 2011. The approval was, however, given without the consent of the civic agency’s environment wing.

The private company was given the quarrying lease in Margalla Hills in 1982 for 30 years and after the expiry of the lease the firm sought another extension for 18 years.

Documents made available to Dawn by a senior official of the Ministry of Interior showed that the office of the chief commissioner had noted in the file sent to the director mineral and labour that:

“In view of the report of Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-Epa) and inspection reports recorded by the CDA chairman expressing satisfaction, further delay is not warranted. Renewal is approved subject to the laws, rules and polices as envisaged in the government polices and with all conditions as laid down in rules.”

The interior ministry official said the CDA environment wing had not given any clearance when the extension was approved by the ICT administration.

A document relating to the lease said: “The reply from the CDA directorate of environment is still awaited. The CDA has been issued two reminders but there is no response since Sept 2011.”

The official asked: “We are amazed why the approval was given when the CDA was reluctant to comment on the matter.”

He said the CDA finally gave its consent in July 2012 - almost seven months after the approval was given by the commissioner office.

CDA environment protest ignored

Initially, in December 2012 the environment directorate of the CDA had protested the extension of the lease, noting: “The extension of mining lease has not been agreed.” It was quite strange that even Pak-Epa had given a green signal to the extension of the quarrying lease.”

In its file, the environment wing asserted: “The extension is against the directive of the president and the prime minister offices issued in early 1990s putting a ban on quarrying in the national park.”

It also added that the extension was granted on the no-objection certificate issued by Pak-Epa which is a clear threat for degradation of Margalla Hills National Park.

The CDA official said the matter needed a thorough probe and if left unnoticed the Margalla Hills would be eaten up in the coming years.

Audit dept’s concerns ignored

An official in the CDA finance wing informed Dawn that in its observation the internal audit department of the civic agency had pointed out: “According to Wildlife Ordinance of 1979, breaking up of any land or cultivation and mining for any other purpose would be prohibited in the national park (Margalla Hills).”

The audit noted: “In response to the prime minister’s directive for preservation of Margalla Hills, the CDA had removed two stone crushing units in 1995 but the company continued working there and on the expiry of its lease it applied for an extension.”

It said the planning division had turned down the extension of the lease twice.

The auditors informed the CDA senior management that the Punjab government had also restricted quarrying and crushing along the ICT boundary up to 1,000 yards but the lease was given by the authority in violation of the wildlife ordinance.

When contacted, CDA spokesman Ramzan Sajid said: “This is not a story it’s already printed in the press, please find something new.”

When pressed for the CDA version, he said: “I will get back to you.”

But till the filing of this report by 10pm, the spokesman failed to give any comment on the matter.

No official was available in the office of the commissioner to clarify the matter.

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