ISLAMABAD: The dumping of garbage and sewage by restaurants and food chains operating in the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) is posing a serious risk to wildlife and biodiversity of the protected area.

Different hotels and recreational spots established in the national park are gradually eating up beauty of the area making nature lovers to think why a proper mechanism was not devised for disposing of waste generated by these outlets.

Forming the foothill of Himalayan Mountain Range and sprawling over 17,000 hectares, the Margalla Hills National Park is rich in wildlife and ecology and is home to the endangered common Asian leopards, barking deer, wolves, pangolin, Kalij pheasants and flora and fauna that are indigenous and unique in existence.

It is also one of attractive tourist spots and a source of amusement for the federal capital residents for its zigzagging road leading to Pir Sohawa and beyond, walking tracks, tall pines and small brooks.

Many eateries established without environmental impact assessments, claims official

But rapid urbanisation in capital and areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa adjoining the national park has stirred a competition of development. In recent years, we have seen that under the garb of promoting tourism, 17 restaurants and 20 shops have been constructed at six locations - Damn-i-Koh Viewpoint, Daman-i-Koh Road, Saidpur village, Pir Sohawa, Mandla and Nurpur (Lohay Dandi Track).

These restaurants include Dhaba at Daman-i-Koh, Sunshine Resort, Refreshment Centre, Maryam Tuck Shop, Subhan Tuck Shop, View Point Shop, Cool Bite Tuck Shop, View Point Shop, Wild Mild Restaurant at Damn-i-Koh Road, Des Pardes, Charsi Tikka, Dera Shinwari Restaurants at Saidpur, Monal, La Montana restaurants, Gloria Jeans Coffee Shop, tuck shops in parking of Monal/La Montana and Babu Huts at Pir Sohawa besides 10 shops each established at Mandla and Nurpur. No matter even if these settlements had been issued NOC by concerned authorities, most of them do not have proper waste disposal system and it is directly thrown into Margallas forest, its vicinity or the water courses within the park.

Many of these restaurants were established without any Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and their un-managed anthropogenic intervention is damaging environment, said Rina Saeed Khan, Chairperson Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB). Especially, two side-by-side lavish settlements at Pir Sohawa were the main source of polluting Margalla forest and springs.

The natural area being polluted by La Motana, Wild Mild and Das Pardes restaurants is conspicuous as their catchment area below had heaps of garbage and swathes of polluted water mingling with freshwater bodies, Ms Khan claimed.

She said after concerted efforts and litigation, the board had been successful to get a landmark verdict against the restaurants from Islamabad High Court (IHC). The IHC had directed them to stop further encroachments to protect the national park besides declaring the construction of buildings and leases granted to hotels and other commercial and food outlets within the protected area as a violation of the CDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordinances.

Meanwhile, the apex court granted stay to Monal Restaurant against the IHC verdict. Now, as the matter is with the apex court, we are waiting for the decision to proceed further, Ms Khan said.

She also claimed that flood lights installed by Monal Restaurant were distracting the nocturnal animals and other species forcing them to give up their habitats. Moreover, traffic jams and honking of vehicles was also restricting crossover for species, already fearing extinction.

When contacted, a CDA spokesperson said environmental protection was not their responsibility. We owe the responsibility of maintaining roads, parking areas and their cleanliness. Other issues like protection of wildlife, habitat and walking tracks pertain to Pak-EPA.

Even if one agrees with this argument of the CDA, the authority cannot deny the fact that it possesses powers to grant a no-objection certificate for construction of settlements in its jurisdiction, including the national park. Therefore, apparently, it had allowed these hotels to carry out business in the national park and protected area.

Meanwhile, when Pak-EPA was approached for comments on the issue, its officials said the environment watchdog had not issued NOC to any entity for construction within the national park jurisdiction. The land belonged to the CDA and it was responsible for protecting it.

“On our part, we have already moved the environment protection tribunal against La Montana and Gloria Jeans and these cases are pending,” the official said.

The IWMB had identified over a dozen illegal restaurants and shops built in Margalla Hills National Park and the EPA has issued notices to them.

The officials mentioned an IHC verdict in another case pertaining to building a sailing club in the national park directing to demolish it and said the action was in progress in light of the court orders. If action can be taken against this club, why not against other illegally constructed restaurants and settlements.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2022

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