ISLAMABAD: Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) and Capital Development Authority (CDA) have been asked to set up a control room to monitor the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) during the fire season, which usually lasts from April to June.

This directive was issued by Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman on Wednesday after police registered a case against those involved in making a viral video that shows a model and TikToker performing in front of a fire in the hills.

The premises of IWMB’s Dino Park office located in the old Marghazar Zoo could be utilised for establishment of the control room, she added.

Ms Rehman issued this directive while chairing a meeting of local officials and representatives from Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) and the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

Man who set fire to forests identified, chief conservator investigating the incident

According to ministry officials, the incident involving the model took place off the Hazara Motorway while another incident involving a man setting fire to the forest with lighters took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa around Abbottabad.

The man was identified and chief conservator of forests (Hazara Zone) was investigating the matter further.

Kohsar police registered a case over the viral video in response to a complaint lodged by CDA official Ijazul Hasan. The case was registered under sections 435, 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 435, 188 besides section 25 of Forest Act 1927, section 5 of Islamabad Preservation of Landscape Ordinance 1966, sections 11/19 Environment Protection Act 1997, section 26 of the Islamabad Wildlife (Protection, Preservation Conservation and Management) Ordinance 1979 against TikToker Dolly and others, the police said.

According to police, after registration of the case, some persons were picked up. During investigation, three of them said that they had nothing to do with the incidents. They were set free after verification.

The people that were picked up told police that they observed the fire in the hills located in KP and made the video, the police said. They further told police that they spoke to locals who admitted that they set the hills on fire in order to kill snakes to protect themselves and their families.

Ms Rehman took notice of the viral video as it shows people blatantly glamourising bushfires as backdrops for fashion photo shoots.

This is a dangerous emerging trend on TikTok which needs to be condemned vehemently in order to discourage other impressionable young people who may be misled or seduced by such images into thinking such actions were socially and legally acceptable, Ms Rehman said.

Every year section 144 was imposed against campfire, barbeques and any other kind of fire-related activity inside the protected national park in Islamabad.

“Forest fires are a visible cost of global warming and triggered by extremely dry weather conditions. They strike with repeated regularity around the heated up planet. In California, about 192 acres of forest land was destroyed in one night alone this month. Each year, unfortunately forest fires consumed millions of acres of land, destroying thousands of homes and properties around the world,” Ms Rehman elaborated.

“This should tell us that we need to act now on global warming both nationally and internationally and no impunity should be allowed for the irresponsible audacity shown on media in the two incidents” she added.

A police team was constituted and sent to Lahore to arrest the TikToker and others who were involved in making the video after setting the hills on fire.

A police officer told Dawn that the area that was seen in the video was not located in the jurisdiction of the capital. The video was made in the jurisdiction of KP, he added.

However, the capital police registered the case keeping in view, the policy of free registration of FIRs, he said. When asked about whether the police are duty-bound to register cases over each and every complaint about cognisable offences as per the CrPC, the officer said that as per policy the capital police registered cases after verifying complaints, and those complaints in which suspects were nominated with their names.

Verifying complaints is a time consuming job, which may be delayed sometimes and takes days to convert into FIRs, the officer added.

About another video of setting fire at the hills by some persons, the officer said no complaint over the issue was lodged.

Meanwhile, due to vigilance of the fire protection staff, fire incidents inside MHNP had reduced as compared to 2021; over 400 officials had been performing their duties inside the park 24 hours a day.

Seven fire incidents occurred this season, of which, five were minor fires. The large fire blazing in Haripur side of Margalla Hills was prevented from spreading by joint efforts of CDA, IWMB and KP forest department.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2022

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