In the Margalla Hills by D-12, half a kilometre from a Capital Development Authority (CDA) signboard that declares construction in the area to be “strictly prohibited”, is a housing society complete with new plotting and large homes.
The area, according to the CDA, falls within Zone III, a part of the capital where construction is banned. Zone III is spread over 50,393 acres, of which 40,000 acres are part of the Margalla Hills National Park as notified under section 21 of the Islamabad Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Ordinance 1979.
Although the city’s administration has remained largely unmoved in the face of unregulated construction in Zone III, it has been scrambling of late to try and satisfy the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case related to this matter.
Following one of the court’s earlier hearings on unregulated construction and encroachment in Zone III and the national park area, the CDA a couple of months ago suspended a few officials, ordered an inquiry, and banned construction in the area.
As of Jan 8, the SC has given the authority two months to create proper regulations, since its existing ones contradict each other.
Questions have also arisen about why the authority has not stopped construction if it is banned in the area, where thousands of houses have been built and their owners have acquired utility connections.
After being censured by the SC at its past hearings, the CDA has prepared an action plan to address encroachment and illegal construction in Zone III and the Margalla Hills National Park, according to which the CDA will, by this March, finish demolishing all the existing violations in the national park.
The authority has also set Jan 15 as a deadline for the demolition of illegal under-construction sites in the un-acquired portion of Zone III, in and around Shah Allah Ditta. Jan 15 will also serve as a deadline for the satellite monitoring system that the CDA is to setup to prevent encroachment on state land.
All unauthorised houses built in Zone III after January 2017, meanwhile, are to be demolished in six months.
The action plan has also decided that the authority’s 1992 zoning regulations will be amended to cater to the capital’s present needs.
CDA Member Planning Asad Mehboob Kayani has said that the authority will implement the action plan in its true spirit. Recently, he said, CDA teams carried out an operation in the Sanari village to remove encroachments on the national park’s land, in accordance with the plan.
According to a CDA advertisement published towards the end of last year, Zone III and the Margalla Hills comprise protected ranges, forests, the hills themselves, non-acquired land between the northern side of Murree Road, and areas such as Shah Allah Ditta, Chontra, Lakhwal, Banigala, Saidpur, Malpur, Bhara Kahu, Kot Hathial and Sangjani.
All construction in this zone is prohibited, but areas such as Banigala, which falls within the Rawal Dam catchment area, are dotted with hundreds of unauthorised residential and commercial buildings. Sources in the authority have said that in the past, unauthorised construction in Zone III was not stopped because of a misinterpreted SC judgement.
CDA Member Planning Asad Mehboob Kayani and then-chairman Sheikh Anser Aziz told a Senate committee a couple of months ago that the SC had previously directed the CDA not to stop locals building on private land that has not been acquired by the authority, but also said that the CDA should regulate the construction.
Mr Kayani told senators that the CDA had complied with the first part, but “never followed the second portion, which clearly directed the CDA to regulate buildings”.
According to the CDA’s 1992 regulations, no change in land use is permissible in Zone III except for preservation and recreation, and neither is the sale and purchase of land (which entail change in land use). Officials said that the regulations also stated that some existing rural settlements would not be allowed to expand.
But the CDA, as in other parts of the capital, neither acquired private land from locals living in Zone III nor made any effort to exercise its regulations, leading to haphazard and illegal construction.
In the middle of last year though, the CDA directed Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL) and the Islamabad Electric Supply Company (Iesco) not to issue utility connections anywhere in Islamabad without a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the CDA.
The move provoked the ire of some representatives in the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad, who have demanded the resignation of Mr Aziz, also Islamabad’s mayor, for linking new construction to NOCs from the CDA. A member of the MCI also said that the CDA had no right to impose its building regulations in villages where it was not providing any municipal services.
The CDA has also failed to protect its land in the national park area where, in February 2017, the chairman asked the ICT administration to retrieve 118 kanals of state land in Sangjani from the possession of a private company that acquired it on the basis of vague demarcation in 2012.
The CDA had challenged the demarcation, which was set aside by the ICT collector in 2015, reverting possession of the land back to the state. The CDA has yet to retrieve the land, and the company has appealed the collector’s decision.
CDA officials Dawn spoke to said the authority’s boundary pillars are also missing from the park. “Out of a total of 2,000 pillars around 500 are missing which should be erected without any delays to protect the land from encroachment,” an official said.
The CDA also allowed construction in Zone III contrary to its own zoning regulations, such as in the area alongside Murree Road from Faizabad to Dhokri Chowk, which was reserved for recreational facilities and motels but now contains several hotels.
Last month, the CDA carried out an operation against the illegal housing society near D-12, only to leave halfway after facing resistance from locals.
Zubair Farooq Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami’s emir in Islamabad who also owns land in the area, argued that North Ridge is not a society, describing it as houses constructed on private land. He said that the land is private, and that there is no question of encroachment on state land.
“This land falls in Mauza Shah Allah Ditta and is private land,” he said, adding that the CDA’s action against the society had been unjustified.
“The issue should be settled once and for all; there should be no ambiguity, otherwise corrupt elements in the CDA and the Islamabad Capital Territory will help encroachers encroach upon state land, as they did regarding the 118 kanals in Sangjani in 2012,” said a CDA official who asked not to be named.
Unauthorised construction has also taken place in the Shah Allah Ditta area, where several influential figures own hundreds of kanals. According to the CDA, the area is part of Zone III, but deputy mayor Syed Zeeshan Naqvi, who is from the area, claims that the area is a part of Zone II, and the CDA has “wrongly declared Shah Allah Ditta as part of Zone III”.
According to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) documents, seven out of the over 100 illegal housing societies in the capital are operating in Islamabad’s Zone III.
In a report submitted to the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice in April 2016, NAB had recommended that the CDA take immediate measures to check further changes to the Margalla Hills National Park landscape.
The committee had later presented its recommendations to the Senate, which adopted the report and asked the CDA to take immediate steps by initiating land acquisition proceedings in Zone III, which have not yet been carried out. The SC is also currently hearing a case related to Zone III and the national park.
Speaking to Dawn, CDA’s Mr Kayani said that all construction is banned in Zone III, and the authority had recently advised the public not to invest in this zone for acquired or un-acquired land. The SNGPL and Iesco, at the CDA’s request, are not providing utility connections to any new construction in the city without an NOC from the CDA.
He said a survey to demarcate land in the national park is also underway.
“We will not allow anyone to encroach upon state land,” he said, adding that an inquiry is underway to identify CDA officials responsible for protecting the national park, but had failed to do so.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018