It seems that the federal government has learnt no lessons from the recent heat wave in Karachi that claimed the lives of over 1,300 citizens. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad has recently announced plans to expand the Islamabad Highway (from Zero Point to Rawat) to five lanes on each side, felling around 300 fully-grown trees in the process.
This is in addition to the damage caused during the construction of the Metro Bus project, when an estimated 600 old trees and around 4,000 smaller trees and shrubs were also cut down.
Such is the developmental belligerence of the CDA that this time, it has not even bothered getting any approval from the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency before launching the highway expansion project. Under the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997, all departments are required to secure the environment assessment report before starting any mega project. But on the ground, the bulldozers have already arrived and trees are being cut without any environment impact assessment report being filed.
Also read: City to lose 620 trees for Orange Line train
“Unfortunately, awareness about the environment is limited at the popular level and at the level of political parties,” argues Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is the elected senator from Islamabad and a member of the Senate Committee on Climate Change.
He feels it is necessary to preserve Islamabad’s greenery and has moved the Supreme Court twice, the first time against the proposed Margalla Hills tunnel project (which would have cut a tunnel through a national park) and the second time when the Metro Bus project linking Islamabad with Rawalpindi was underway.
“We were lucky with the Margalla Hills tunnel project since Iftikhar Chaudhry was on the bench at the time and he took suo moto notice of the project and stopped it. But in the case of the more recent Metro Bus project, the Supreme Court did not do anything,” explains the senator.
Also read: They can’t see the forest for the trees
In fact, claims Hussain, the bulldozers arrived while the environment impact assessment report, conducted by National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK), was being deliberated over.
Trees almost 30 to 40 years old were literally uprooted overnight as the Rs20 billion highway expansion project continued without the relevant approvals.
In belligerently pursuing a parochial vision of development, the Capital Development Authority, Islamabad, has been bypassing laws meant to safeguard the environment.
It was only after the Metro Bus project was completed in March 2015 that the senator was asked what should be done to counter the damage. “I said please restore the green belt, replant the trees and make pathways for pedestrians and the handicapped… Because of all this cutting of trees the temperature is bound to rise in the capital.” He clarifies that he is not opposed to public transport, but the exorbitant cost was not justified and the environmental damage could have been avoided.
The CDA has recently announced yet another bombshell: the appropriation of 1,400 acres of mostly agricultural land owned by the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) near Rawal Lake in Islamabad to convert into a housing scheme. Since the senator feels that the days of judicial activism are now over, he decided to approach the Senate this time to protest against both the expansion of the Islamabad Highway and the grabbing of NARC land by the CDA.
He is right in that the Supreme Court is no longer active the way it was during Chaudhry Iftikhar’s time. Just last week, they allowed the controversial Signal Free Corridor in Lahore (from Qartaba Chowk, Jail Road, to Liberty Chowk, Main Boulevard) to continue despite the Lahore High Court’s judgement that the project should be stopped until the local bodies elections are held, as it is a matter for the local government to decide and not the Lahore Development Authority.
“They even declared the EIA illegal ... and yet allowed the project to continue. This reeks of bias and tilt,” says Imrana Tiwana who had been fighting the case in the Supreme Court against the 7-km long elevated signal-free corridor on behalf of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek.
Senator Mushahid Hussain is so far having better luck with the Senate, which unanimously voted to admit the adjournment motion moved by him regarding CDA’s attempt to convert the land owned by NARC into commercial plots to be sold for housing.
In his speech, Senator Mushahid highlighted several points in support of his adjournment motion.
First, NARC is a premier academic institute vested in research on agricultural production since 1984. Second, what CDA is proposing is in violation of its master plan and existing rules and regulations. Thirdly, right next to NARC is the Park Enclave, which was supposed to have been developed by the CDA a few years ago for housing. This project is far from completion, even though the CDA have taken Rs2bn in advance from prospective clients.
“Given their track record, why are they eyeing something else?” he asks.
“There is a culture of greed and grabbing that has become pervasive,” says Hussain. “I mean how much land does a man or woman really need? This greed for plots has become the hallmark of the elite and it has to be stopped.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine July 26th, 2015