IHC orders sealing of Monal Restaurant; goes after armed forces' encroachments in national park

Published January 11, 2022
This image shows a notice posted outside Monal Restaurant on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
This image shows a notice posted outside Monal Restaurant on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday ordered capital authorities to seal off today Monal Restaurant and take control of the Margalla Greens Golf Club built on encroached land, also declaring illegal the military’s claim to 8,000 acres of Margalla Hills National Park.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued the order to Islamabad Capital Territory Chief Commissioner Amer Ali Ahmed while hearing a case related to encroachments in the national park.

"This court will protect the wider public interest," the judge said.

The climate change secretary, who was present during the hearing, called for Islamabad's master plan to be made public.

Justice Minallah said all rules applied to the three wings of the armed forces and asked whether they were being implemented. He questioned whether the Pakistan Air Force had gotten approval from the Capital Development Authority (CDA) for the constructions it had carried out.

"It is possible that they might have some security concerns," he remarked.

The judge said the concerns of the defence secretary should also be heard and the law should be strictly implemented. "Seal Monal if its lease has ended," Justice Minallah added.

Following the judge's directives, CDA officials went to the restaurant to seal it.

The Environment Protection Agency was directed to submit a report on the damages caused by construction on the national park.

The IHC also ordered the CDA to take over the Margalla Greens Golf Club today.

"The defence secretary should inquire about the encroachments of the navy golf course [and] take action against those responsible," Justice Minallah said.

The IHC directed the defence secretary to ensure the implementation of the court's orders and make sure there was no illegal construction by the armed forces' three wings.

"The defence secretary and chief commissioner should ensure that no complaints come to the court now," Justice Minallah said.

On November 9, the IHC had blamed several authorities for being complacent about the destruction of Margalla Hills National Park and the wildlife sanctuary. The court had also ordered a survey to be carried out on the damage and a report to be submitted.

Earlier that same month, the court had also asked the attorney general for Pakistan to explain if Messers Remount, the veterinary and farms directorate of the General Headquarters (GHQ), could legally own or manage state land within the protected area of the national park.

'Armed forces should not be controversial'

The court was informed at the hearing's outset by the additional attorney general (AAG) that Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam could not appear since he had tested positive for Covid-19.

Justice Minallah asked the climate change secretary whether his job was "just to plant trees?", reminding that "the ministry has itself acknowledged that the state's land was encroached upon by private people."

"What should this court do? What is happening is surprising," the judge said.

Justice Minallah remarked that there was "lawlessness" abound in the 1400 square miles of the capital territory.

"Sectors of three armed forces [wings] (army, military, navy) have been formed. The armed forces should not be controversial in any way. It is not in the public interest," the judge remarked.

He said the law was clear on who could manage the lands of the armed forces, the manner in which they could do so, adding that the court would not allow anyone to make the armed forces controversial.

"National park area is a protected area and there can be no activity in it. No one can even cut grass in the national park area," the judge said.

At this point, Justice Minallah wondered that to whom a land of which there is neither any use nor purpose could go to. The AAG replied that it was the executive's job to determine that, to which the judge pointed out: "This is to be determined by the law, not the executive."

"No property can be in the name of any institution," the judge said. "This court has to protect the national park. The 8,000 acres of land is now part of the national park," he remarked.

Justice Minallah noted that the armed forces were not autonomous and were instead under the control of the Ministry of Defence.

The chief justice said the navy had built a golf course on encroached land which was not "a good thing". "Every citizen respects the armed forces. If they do this (encroaching on state property) then it will not send a good message," Justice Minallah remarked.

"We first have to hold ourselves accountable. The poor are mired in poverty due to lawlessness.

"You yourself admitted that the golf course was illegal," the judge said, before ordering the defence secretary to hand over the land of the golf course to the CDA.

Meanwhile, CDA Chairman Amer Ali Ahmed informed the court that a notice had been sent to the navy to take down its sailing club.

The IHC on Friday had declared illegal the navy's sailing club and farmhouses constructed on the national park land and ordered their demolition.

At this, the defence secretary informed the court that villages and hamlets were also encroaching upon the park land.

The CDA chairman said that changes were being made to the city's master plan without any consideration and "every institution had encroached somewhere or the other."

He added that the matter would also be placed before the cabinet.

"When government institutions stop encroaching [on state land] then no one else will dare [to do so]," the CDA chairman said.

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