ISLAMABAD: After first shelving plans for a cricket stadium in Shakarparian, which falls within the Margalla Hills National Park, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is now considering a new deal with the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife (NCCW) to build a cricket ground in the capital’s greenest area.

The construction of the cricket ground would violate the Islamabad Wildlife Ordinance 1979 and the city’s master plan, as it will be established in a national park.

“Shakarparian, Banigala and Margalla Hills are all part of the Margalla Hills National Park and are the lungs of the capital city. Banigala, which is the catchment area of Rawal Lake, has already been lost, but Shakarparian and Margalla Hills are now under attack by developers and the short-sighted policies of the Capital Development Authority (CDA),” said Duskha Saiyid, one of the founding members of Green Force, a small group of volunteers working to protect Islamabad’s greenery from further destruction.

During the PPP government, the CDA had allotted around 35 acres of land in Shakarparian to the PCB for a cricket stadium that could hold 50,000 people. The plan also included a luxury hotel and a training academy. This plan was shelved last year when Pak-EPA and NCCW, a wing of the Ministry of Climate Change, refused to issue a no objection certificate for the project.

According to PCB head Najam Sethi, the project was initiated under the previous PCB administration and the land was leased to the PCB by the PPP government on the condition that the PCB will build a full-fledged cricket stadium, hotel and academy, and the process of levelling the ground, laying grass, fixing underground drainage and building a protective wall was started.

“But when I came to the PCB in 2013, I reviewed the project and the objections to it by environmentalists and its economic feasibility. I shelved the project pending further deliberations and clearances,” he said.

Asked about the construction of a cricket ground in Shakarparian, Mr Sethi said: “I am still opposed to the full fledged stadium project. But I continue to toy with the idea of a ‘village green’ for friendly, amateur cricket at the site, with people sitting on grassy mounds to watch a gentlemanly game on Sundays. No concrete structures, no environmental issues. Just a small classic pavilion and changing room for players like in Aitchison College or Cambridge,” he said.

However, Ms Saiyid says she is opposed to the idea of a cricket ground as well because “once you open the door to cricket, others will come and cut more trees in Shakarparian to build a football field or a hockey ground and so on”.

She suggested the area designated for the cricket ground be replanted with trees and its greenery restored.

“Cricket grounds can be built anywhere, why not find some already degraded land owned by the CDA and build it there instead. Why not build it in Shah Allah Ditta which will help rebuild the degraded area,” said Christina Afridi, another Green Force member.

She said there is an international level cricket stadium in Shamsabad, just six kilometres from Shakarparian which can be upgraded by the PCB.

“There is also a perfectly good cricket ground in F-9,” said Dr Anisur Rehman, head of Islamabad’s Wildlife Management Board, which is the custodian of the Margalla Hills National Park.

“The construction of a cricket ground in Shakarparian will be completely illegal as it is part of the national park. The CDA cannot just lease out this land to anyone like this,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2017

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