ISLAMABAD: A recent cabinet decision to relocate an under-construction jail from the ‘buffer zone’ of H-16 has sparked debate, as this area does not practically fall within the buffer zone.
The cabinet recently decided to relocate an under-construction jail, of which Rs1.5 billion have been spent already, from H-16.
Buffer zones are neutral sites that separate two areas; Islamabad’s buffer zone separates Islamabad from Rawalpindi.
Interviews with CDA officers about the jail project and the cabinet decision revealed that H-16 does not fall in the actual buffer zone of Islamabad at all. CDA officials said that the original master plan for the capital was already meant for Rawalpindi as well, and under it the A to H sectors were part of Islamabad and the J to O sectors were to be developed by Rawalpindi.
A buffer zone was earmarked in the H sectors to separate the two cities, but in 1963, it was decided that Islamabad would consist of A to I sectors instead of H sectors. Because of this, the twin cities were divided by I.J. Principal Road.
However, the buffer zone, which should have been moved to I.J.P Road, was not changed.
The spirit of the buffer zone in H-16 and its adjoining sectors was already diminished in the 70s, when the CDA allotted land for government buildings.
Sources said that mistakes by successive CDA managements and governments resulted in the recent cabinet decision, as the cabinet members did not seem to know the actual status of the buffer zones.
The capital’s master plan is divided into three parts — Rawalpindi, Islamabad and the Islamabad National Park. It is divided by Islamabad Expressway and Srinagar Highway, both 1,200 feet wide.
The boundary of the capital was notified in 1963 and then moved southward, at which time the H and I sectors were included in Islamabad.
Therefore, they said, the green zone south of Srinagar Highway was to be treated as a green buffer zone between the twin cities. This was not notified.
The area south of I.J.P Road, which should have been notified as the buffer zone according to the original concept, was not.
Sources said that in light of this change, even though it was not notified, the CDA allotted land to Allama Iqbal University and Red Crescent in H-8/2 in the early 1970s. This area would still be considered the buffer zone on paper.
This ‘buffer zone’ was later reduced in size by the prime minister in 2008, CDA official said. They added that housing schemes along both highways, north of Soan River, government offices north of D-10 and the Diplomatic Enclave extension also fall in the ‘buffer zone’.
H-13, H-14, H-15 and H-17 are un-acquired sectors owned by private individuals and do not carry any concept of green and buffer zones, they added.
CDA officials also said that a committee was formed in 2007 by the Ministry of Interior consisting of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration, the CDA and the district judiciary to select a site for a model prison.
The site was finalised in 2012 at a meeting chaired by the chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court. Later, with approval from the CDA board, 90 acres in H-11/2 were allotted for the jail and possession of the site was given to the ICT administration in 2014.
CDA officials said that a summary was sent to the cabinet in 2016 to make changes in the master plan in H-12/2 and the northern half of H-16 along Srinagar Highway, asking to convert the ‘buffer zone’ to residential and commercial institutions, to no avail.
At a meeting in September 2019, the cabinet decided that if the judiciary decided to go ahead with the construction of the model prison on the existing site, the area would be covered by an existing structure on approximately 20 acres and would be ring-fenced, and the allotment of the remaining area would be cancelled for the restoration of the green area. Otherwise, the jail structure would be demolished and the prison relocated.
Besides directing action against the Public Works Department, CDA and ICT officials, the cabinet also directed the CDA to cancel all allotted lands where construction had not taken place in the green ‘buffer zone’.
Officials said that in light of this decision, plots in H-8, H-9, H-10, H-11, H-12 and H-16 for the construction of the Central Engineering Lab, PWD Rest House, Wapda Hospital, Hindu Community Centre and Cremation Temple, Regional Training Institutions, Islamabad Traffic Police, Pakistan Institute of Development Economic, Air University, FAST University, and several government organisations have their plots cancelled.
The officials said cabinet should hand this issue over to a consultant that is going to revise the capital’s master plan for a suitable decision.
A number of CDA officials and senior officials who spoke on this issue asked not to be named, but said this area does not practically fall in the buffer zone between the twin cities.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2020