Navy chief defends building club, terms it ‘sports facility’

Updated 23 Aug 2020

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CNS Zafar Mahmood Abbasi in a written report submitted to the Islamabad High Court (IHC)  asserted that the National Water Sports Centre (NWSC) was “neither a club in the traditional sense nor is it a commercial enterprise”. — APP/File
CNS Zafar Mahmood Abbasi in a written report submitted to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) asserted that the National Water Sports Centre (NWSC) was “neither a club in the traditional sense nor is it a commercial enterprise”. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) has defended the construction of a ‘luxury club’, terming it a sports facility that had been established on the federal government’s directive after obtaining approval of environmental experts.

CNS Zafar Mahmood Abbasi in a written report submitted to the Islamabad High Court (IHC) through counsel Ashtar Ausaf Ali and Raja Zahoorul Hassan asserted that the National Water Sports Centre (NWSC) was “neither a club in the traditional sense nor is it a commercial enterprise”.

While allowing naval officials to resume maintenance and repair of boats, the IHC had recently extended its stay order against all commercial activities in the club till September 9.

The report said: “Chief of the Naval Staff was appointed, ex-officio, patron-in-chief of all water sports in Pakistan including yachting, rowing, water skiing and canoeing.

“It was further directed that Water Sports Centres be developed at the following locations: Kunhar River (between Garhi Habibullah/Balakot), Tarbela Lake and Rawal Lake (subject to the report to be submitted by the consultant on environmental impact of water-related sports in the Rawal Lake as per decision of the inter-ministerial meeting chaired by the Minister for Environment/Urban Affairs on September 22, 1992).”

Asks IHC to see the matter in broader national perspective and federal govt directive

It is a judicially noticed fact that Rawal Lake is receiving untreated sewage and other wastes from various sources, making the water highly polluted and toxic.

The present structure is only an upgraded version of what had been established some 25 years ago.

According to the report, the NWSC management under an order is supposed to strictly observe recommendations, including measures to ensure proper waste water treatment, monthly water quality testing, occupational health and safety training to ensure timely response for emergent situations, lake cleaning and response to hazardous spills, quality monitoring of all environmental pollution sources by third parties noticed by the courts from time to time.

The report said a detailed study was carried out by the consultancy firm in November 1993. It contained a detailed evaluation of the water sports project at Rawal Lake, including guidelines as to how the centre’s building was to be designed and built. On March 8, 1994, the Pakistan Navy wrote a letter to the CDA chairman for earmarking land at Rawal Lake for implementing the government directive.

On August 15, 1994, the PM Secretariat issued a letter to the CDA chairman for preparing a report as to how Rawal Lake could be utilised for water sports without causing pollution or contamination of water. Various working papers on “Water Sports Development Plan” (with duties and responsibilities) of CDA, Pakistan Navy, Small Dams, Organization, concerned ministries etc), “Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study and “Water Lake Management Plan” were discussed and debated at inter-ministerial and cabinet division level, it added. Later on September 9, 1994, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat approved the NWSC at Rawal Lake and directed cabinet division to authorise provision of land and release of funds by the finance division. However, due to paucity of funds the cabinet division on December 14, 1994 asked for restricting the programme to one site only and directed the CDA for initiation of action under intimation to agencies concerned for provision of land for National Rowing Centre at Rawal Lake.

On October 30, 1998, the Naval Headquarters requested the CDA chairman for provision of land in the light of PM’s directive without delay for establishing the National Water Sports Centre. Subsequently, the correspondence continued for formal allotment of land for the Water Sports Centre, which had already commenced on makeshift arrangements in 1994.

In view of the federal government’s power to give directions to the CDA and formulation of policy, it was assumed that all internal workings of the government were in order. The PN, like other Armed Forces of Pakistan, is there to obey government directives. Although the initiative was started in all earnestness, efforts to promote sailing and rowing at national level did not yield desired results in the North of the country despite concerted efforts by all concerned, the report of naval chief stated, adding that Pakistan Sailing Team, mostly comprising navy persons, used to be on the medal table in Asian Games and Olympic events and had brought laurels for the country till early 1990s.

In order to infuse a sense of competition and regain the standing, the CNS then envisioned to regain Pakistan primacy in the water sport both at national and international level and to encourage the youth in the northern parts of Pakistan.

In 2018, it was therefore, decided to upgrade and renovate the existing setup at Rawal Lake in accordance with international standards and requirements of Olympics Federation while strictly following environmental parameters, it explained.

As per the naval chief, the upgrade of the facilities to the international standard would help in tapping young talented men and women in the north and training them in water sports to compete at international level thereby bringing laurels to the country.

The report said that PN professional divers were also stationed at the Centre to provide assistance to civil administration in case of any eventuality due to floods or drowning covering in area from Lahore to Gilgit. In this regard, 67 persons were rescued during operations in the year 2019-20 alone. These divers rendered active assistance in cleaning up the Rawal Lake when cluttered with dead animals and cattle.

The PN has been maintaining possession of the area of the NWSC at the Rawal Lake for the last 25 years as per the directions of the government and facilitation by the CDA. The NWSC has been renovated/ uplifted with good intent for overcoming “sea blindness” and promotion of water sports in contribution to national cause.

It requested the court that the matter needs to be seen in the broader national perspective and the directive of the government which has command of the armed forces.

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2020