ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained the expansion of Monal Restaurant, a popular eatery in the protected Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).
A five-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed also ordered the Islamabad administration to replant trees that were felled during the attempted expansion.
Islamabad Chief Commissioner Amer Ali Ahmed told the court that the administration had already sealed the Monal and proceeded against the restaurant by initiating action against them.
The directions came when Justice Ahmed said it had come to his notice that 500 to 1,000 trees had been felled for the expansion of the restaurant.
The SC was told that former CDA chairman Kamran Lashari had allowed Monal to be constructed in the national park.
Pak-EPA, capital administration seal Monal and begin legal action, MCI begins plantation to rehabilitate damaged land
In his order, Justice Ahmed said that the Margalla Hills, which spread from Islamabadto Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, were declared a national park and heritage site and no part of this area could therefore be allotted to any private individual for commercial activity or a private residence.
Mr Ahmed, who is also the chairman of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), also told the court that a number of restaurants have developed in the area, while other establishments including Pine Residentia offer hotel and guest house services.
The court said all these constructions were illegal and against the spirit of the MHNP, and should be stopped and demolished.
The court summoned the owners of Monal and Pine Residentia to appear in court for the next hearing after the Eid holidays.
According to earlier reports, the total area of the Margalla Reserved Forest in 17,111 acres, which is surrounded by KP, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
After Islamabad was built, the CDA approached the provincial government of West Pakistan to transfer management of these reserve forests, after which 12,511 acres - 11,870 acres of the Margalla Reserve Forest and 641 acres of Banigala - were leased to the CDA in 1961.
An agreement to this effect was signed between the West Pakistan agriculture secretary and the CDA’s horticulture directorate in 1966. In 1980, it was declared a national park.
Pak-EPA seals Monal
Also on Tuesday, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the chief commissioner’s office sealed Monal Restaurant for illegally felling trees for its expansive construction activities, the Ministry of Climate Change said.
The agency said all kinds of construction activity is illegal in the MHNP.
Pak-EPA Director General Farzana Altaf Shah dismissed rumours that the restaurant’s management cleared wild vegetation to protect the property and visitors from summer forest fires.
“Management of restaurants disregard environmental laws and look for loopholes to violate rules. Lets not forget that these commercial spaces were built without environmental approvals in the first place. In this case the restaurant has undertaken construction activity to expand premises,” Ms Shah told Dawn, adding that trees spread across eight to nine kanals of land were cleared.
The climate change ministry’s media focal person Mohammad Saleem told the press that it was brought to the notice of Adviser to the Prime Minister Malik Amin Aslam that illegal construction to expand Monal had been going on for a few days.
The expansion was initiated by the restaurant’s management and led to a significant loss of tree cover and land degradation, he said.
He said that Mr Aslam directed the Pak-EPA to take legal action against those responsible.
The agency and the chief commissioner’s office sealed the commercial facility and lodged an FIR against those involved with the Secretariat police, he said.
Mr Saleem said that photographs of felling trees and land levelling were widely circulated on social media and were shared with the chief commissioner by the Pak-EPA and the climate change ministry to take action.
The capital administration carried out a raid that corroborated the images being shared online.
Two people were also arrested during the raid and an FIR was lodged with the Kohsar police.
He said that a case was simultaneously fixed in the larger bench of the SC regarding stone crushing and the protection of the MHNP, and the SC issued an order putting an immediate stop to all construction activities in the national park.
The Pak-EPA also took action against restaurants in the MHNP that were built without environmental approval and were damaging the ecosystem and increasing pollution in the vicinity, he said.
Mr Saleem said that Mr Aslam and other ministry officials will visit the damaged site today (Wednesday) to observe the damage caused by the restaurant’s management.
MCI begins plantation on affected land
The Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad’s environment wing has begun planting trees on land that was cleared for the expansion of Monal after the restaurant was sealed.
Officials from the wing told Dawn that 450,000sq ft or 100 kanals of land was levelled by the owner of the restaurant and a large number of trees were felled.
Now, 1,125 saplings will be planted there in the first phase of a plantation campaign, of which 300 wild pomegranate, kachnar and altamas sapling were planted on Tuesday.
Mr Ahmed, the chief commissioner and CDA chairman, told Dawn that plantation began immediate in pursuance of SC orders.
Every effort will be made to restore the damaged land through plantation and carpeting of grass, environment wing officials said.
They said the construction activity began a few months ago but then stopped and only restarted recently. They said people had been discussing the matter on social media for several weeks.
The sources said that on Monday, Mr Ahmed directed concerned officials to seal the restaurant building immediately and to take action to halt the illegal construction.
They said that twonoticeswere issued to the owners of the restaurant in the last few months by the environment wing, but practical action to halt construction was not taken.
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020