ISLAMABAD: Monal Restaurant is built on military land in the Margalla Hills that it now wants back, Capital Development Authority (CDA) Member Planning Dr Shahid Mahmood told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

He told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change that 15 years ago the CDA “did not know it was building Monal Restaurant on military grasslands until the army started claiming it.”

The committee was told that the 22,000 acres of land that now constitute the Margalla Hills National Park were actually owned by the Punjab government.

Around 5,500 acres of this land was allocated to the army, he said, although the exact year this allocation was made was not stated.The CDA now owns 16,500 acres.

The latest survey conducted by the authority revealed that the land allotted to the army is right in the centre of the national park, and Monal has been built on it.

Member planning tells NA body that 5,500 acres allocated to army in Margalla Hills were found to be site where the restaurant has been built

Monal Restaurant was built in 2005 and was CDA property. Operation of the restaurant was leased for a 10 year period, Dr Mahmood told the committee.

CDA officials told the committee the space is now being vacated and handed over to the army.

However, committee chair MNA Munaza Hassan was more interested in finding out who had permitted the construction of a large restaurant inside the national park, which is protected by the law to conserve its natural environment and wildlife.

Dr Mahmood said the CDA board at the time had permitted the restaurant’s construction, offering to share the board decision with the committee.

He said several inquiries were undertaken to hold officials accountable for allowing the restaurant to be built, but none have been successful.

The committee chair demanded the CDA share information regarding the construction of Monal Restaurant on protected land.

Climate Change Joint Secretary Suleman Warraich said the government was unable to implement environment protection laws due to confusion over the demarcation of state land overlapping with private property. He said the Margalla Hills National Park was last mapped in the 1960s.

Wildlife Board

The new Islamabad Wildlife Management Board will be constituted in a month, Climate Change Secretary Nasir Jami told the committee.

“Its recruitment rules will be ready within three months after the board comes into existence,” he said.

The assurance came after MNA Ali Awan and the current IWMB Chairman Dr Anis Rehman told the committee chairthat constitution of the board has been pending for three years.

Dr Rehman urged the committee to strengthen the board, which is mandated to protect the national park in Islamabad and its wildlife.

He also drew the committee’s attention to several violations of environmental laws. He said national parks are threatened by institutional encroachment as much as they are by villagers nearby.

“Hundreds of square kilometers have been cleared by institutions in Shakarparian, which is also a protected area. A parade ground, an even bigger area cleared for parking besides the 77, 000 cubic feet of earth removed from it, the Islamabad Club and the Sports Complex are also institutional encroachments,” he told committee members.

He said the IWMB has been trying to preserve the national parks. The board has seen the return of the Khaleej pheasant and the common leopard in the Margalla Hills National Park.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2019