ISLAMABAD: Environmentally hazardous practices in the Margalla Hills National Park (MNHP), including smoking, BBQ-ing and littering, have been outlawed in order to protect the diverse wildlife area.
According to a fresh notification, the capital police will now assist the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) in enforcing the environmental laws.
“The police will now patrol the park along with the wildlife staff and fine visitors for littering,” said IWMB Chairperson Rina Saeed Khan.
Cutting of trees and encroachment has also been banned, the notification said, adding: “Violators can be arrested for a month and a fine can be imposed through a summary trial. Act as responsible citizens by following law.”
“We expect all hikers to follow ‘My Waste, My Responsibility’ slogan and bring their waste down with them,” Ms Khan said, adding the IWMB did not have the power to fine people for littering and the public often confronted and ill-treated its staff when they tried to stop them from throwing trash around picnic spots along the road.
Strict action against littering in the national park started after British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner picked up trash left behind by people and posted a picture on his social media along with two bags full of litter. Later, Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat also joined volunteers in cleaning up the trails.
“I’m glad the British high commissioner’s tweet went viral. People had been taking the park for granted. Nobody ever stopped them from littering. There is now going to be a crackdown on the free-for-all attitude. We have the support of the district administration and the chairman of Capital Development Authority (CDA),” Ms Khan added.
Soon after Dr Turner’s tweet went viral, CDA installed garbage bins along the trails but Ms Khan pointed out that simply installing garbage bins was not a solution but a knee-jerk reaction to a tweet gone viral.
She shared a video and images of monkeys accessing the bins and spreading trash around it, making matters even worse. “We asked CDA to allow the board to assist, by installing eco-friendly monkey proof garbage bins but the offer was rejected,” she said, adding the board had even offered to take responsibility of clearing litter but the Environment Wing of the civic body had warned the board that it was stepping outside its mandate.
According to CDA Director General (Civic Management) Sarwar Sindhu, the littering problem along the road to Daman-i-Koh and beyond came into the notice of chairman CDA. “Two weeks ago, the chairman had ordered us to remove all the trash. We cleared two dumper truckloads of litter,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) served Monal and Gloria Jeans show-cause notices for non-compliance with environmental laws, warning them of sealing their premises.
“Your attitude regarding non-compliance of environmental laws is not acceptable, which is damaging the environment of the vicinity since you are managing your solid and sewerage waste from the restaurant/unit properly,” the notice read.
A similar notice has also been served on La Montana, said Ms Khan, adding: “The board has decided to go to the Environmental Tribunal against these commercial establishments inside the Margalla Hills National Park that are only in the money-making business and not giving back to the people and the environment. We do not want these restaurants inside the protected area where they dump their solid and sewerage wastes. These restaurants were established in violation of Pak-EPA’s environmental laws and without a proper environmental impact assessment report (EIA), which is mandatory before any development activity.”
According to a letter written on April 5, 2021, by Pak-EPA on Monal’s lease agreement, the establishment has been operating in the park in violation of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act,1997.
A source in CDA said that departments seem to be entangled in a turf war for control of MHNP.
The national park does not belong to the board but was the property of the animals and the people, Ms Khan said, adding: “We only ask CDA to help us make it better now that the board is the custodian of the protected area which is the richest in wildlife more than any other national park in the country.”
With the park closed for the public, over 200 registered volunteers are on a mission to clear litter from it. “It would not be a bad idea to close the park to the public once in a while for all sorts of traffic and trekking purposes. World over national parks are closed to visitors for ecological reasons. This gives wildlife some breathing space and it does not take long for nature to bounce back,” she added.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2021