ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the relocation of restaurants out of the National Park Area within a period of three months, including the most frequented eatery Monal, perched atop picturesque Margalla Hills.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, a three-judge Supreme Court had taken up an appeal against the Jan 11, 2022 judgement of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) regarding sealing and taking over the possession of the Monal Restaurant.

The Supreme Court, however, rejected the appeal against the IHC order in which the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) were ordered to seal the Monal premises subject to allowing its owner/management to take out its property.

The high court had also held that the lease agreement of Monal with the CDA had expired and its agreement on Sept 30, 2019, with the Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate was void and without any legal effect.

Monal given three months to wrap up operations; CDA chief says 21 forest fires reported this season

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court directed CDA to facilitate the Monal Group of Companies in the relocation of the restaurant from the existing place to some permissible location within three months on a preferential basis. CJP Isa observed that the main focus of the Supreme Court was the preservation of the national park. The order also required that all other restaurants situated on Pir Sohawa Road be treated in the same manner.

Referring to the rent, which the Monal restaurant had been depositing to a local civil court on a monthly basis for the last three to four years since the dispute surfaced between CDA and Monal Group, the Supreme Court ordered to transfer the funds to the IWMB, being represented by Advocate Umer Ijaz Gillani, to help support them in the preservation of the wildlife.

The court ordered the relocation of the restaurant within three months when Monal Group CEO Luqman Ali Afzal volunteered for relocation within four months.

He also regretted that the relocation would send a wrong message to the investors, but the CJP observed the court had to preserve the serenity of the national park area. “Nowhere in the world are commercial activities, like running restaurants, allowed inside the national park area,” the court observed.

The court also rejected a report furnished by the CDA in line with earlier directions to furnish complete details of infrastructure and constructions inside the national park area.

The court regretted that CDA in its report had named buildings like the Pak-China Centre, Sports Complex, Arts Council as well as the Pakistan National Monument inside the national park.

“Should we order pulling down all these buildings,” CJP Isa regretted, also wondering whether the Supreme Court building was also present inside the national park area. “The entire world knows how many restaurants are inside the national park area except the CDA,” he observed.

Forest fires

During the hearing, CDA Chairman Mohammad Ali Randhawa told the Supreme Court that 21 incidents of forest fire eruption were witnessed in the Marglla Hills during the current season, adding that it took great efforts to extinguish the fire on the hills.

When the court inquired whether the fires were lit by CDA officials, the chairman responded that “we too have some black sheep” in the civic body. To a query, the chairman informed the court that the services of the helicopters were sought from the NDMA to control the fire after the approval of the cabinet.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2024

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