Stone crushing continues on Margalla Hills. — Dawn
Stone crushing continues on Margalla Hills. — Dawn

TAXILA: Unchecked and large-scale quarrying on the Margalla hills is causing serious threat to the Unesco world heritage sites in the Taxila valley.

The stone crushing activities on the hills are not only polluting the environment but also causing a serious threat to the ancient Buddhist sites as well as the Taxila Museum, a treasure trove of the Buddhist civilisation. Cracks have started appearing on the walls of the museum due to the quarrying and stone crushing activities in its vicinity, said an official of the museum.

It seems that the authorities concerned have turned a blind eye to the consistent quarrying and stone crushing activities in the Margalla hills, he added.

Because of the alarming increase in pollution and dust in the air, skin, waterborne and respiratory diseases have become common among the people of union council Thatta Khalil, especially Dhoke Hakam Dad, Baseera, Jandou, Chokkar and other areas. According to sources, about 22 leases were granted to the stone crushers but now half of the leases have expired. Approximately, 30 stone-crushing units are being operated on the expired leases.

To preserve the historical and geographical landscapes of the Taxila valley, the federal government declared the area as a conservation zone. In this regard, notifications were issued in 1982 under the Antiquities Act 1975. As Unesco enlisted different sites of Taxila, especially Mohra Maradu, Sirkap and Dharmarajika stupa, on the World Heritage Sites in 1984, the federal government through an SRO on July 19, 1989, prohibited mining, quarrying, excavating and blasting in the hills. However, the ban was never implemented by the concerned authorities.

Dr Ashraf Khan, the director of the Taxila Institute of Asian Civilisations, told Dawn that he had prepared various studies to highlight the effects of stone crushing on historical monuments in Taxila. Though some of the stone crushing units were either stopped or relocated, a large number of them are still operational, he said.

According to the officials of the department of archaeology, continuous quarrying and blasting in the proximity of the ancient sites has caused substantial loss to the monuments in the Taxila Museum.

An official said the issue of management of museums also got complicated after the passage of the 18th amendment as there was confusion over the question of ownership and management of the museums and archaeological sites across the country. Before the 18th amendment, the federal archaeology department used to manage the affairs of the sites.

According to official data, the Punjab government issued notices to over 30 stone crushing units in the past but the activity continued unabated with the passage of time. The case of stone crushing has now been sent to the Punjab Environment Protection Tribunal that is pursuing the matter.

Talking to this reporter, an official of the district environment department said the Punjab environmental protection department had issued notices to nine stone crushers for polluting the environment.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2015

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