ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s environment protection agency has suddenly gone soft on the stone crushers in the Margalla Hills, allowing them to go on denuding the hills, but without degrading the environment.
A U-turn certainly in its past policy of shutting down illegal quarrying in the hills, which lie in the protected National Park Area, but how one destroys and protects something at the same time?
“We have asked owners of stone crushing machines to protect those portions of the mountains which they have eaten up otherwise they will be removed,” Director General Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) Asif Shuja told Dawn on Sunday.
“The owners of Facto Cement factory and Sangjani stone crushing machine have been directed to rehabilitate those portions of the mountains which they have dilapidated by acquiring gravels,” the official added.
Asked what guidelines his organisation had suggested to the stone crushers to protect the environment, he said they had been directed to keep the devastated areas green and plant environment-friendly trees there. He said the factory owners had also been advised to install equipment to control dust.
“Following our guidelines, the management of Facto Cement has agreed to establish a park on the dilapidated area,” he said.
When asked if his organisation had changed its stance on the illegal quarrying, the Pak-EPA chief maintained: “If we cannot stop all stone crushers completely due to litigation and other constraints we can at least force them to repair the damage they have done.”
In a last exercise conducted by Pak-EPA along with the administration of Islamabad in October 2011, stone crushing within the territorial limits of the federal capital was controlled to some extent but the quarrying continued in Punjab side because of disinterest shown by the provincial government.
The stone crushers have been eating away the hills for decades to supply building materials to the construction industry and parts of it in Taxila today stand eroded completely.
The Pak-EPA chief said like Islamabad quarrying was conducted all over the world in national park areas but stone crushers rehabilitated the damaged areas.
“We cannot ignore the reality that in construction industry there is a big demand for the gravels from Margalla,” the official said.
All over Punjab, there are 123 stone crushers who are working illegally. Of all the sites, Margalla Hills is most popular for quarrying mainly because agencies such as the National Highway Authority, the Capital Development Authority, City District Government Rawalpindi and PWD while giving out tenders make it mandatory for the contractors to use gravels from the Margalla Hills.
The owner of a stone-crushing machine, Malik Tariq agreed that he and other stone crushing factory owners had been asked to improve the destroyed parts of the mountains.“We have been asked verbally that we can continue our business if we ensure protection of the eaten-up portions but nothing has so far been received in black and white from the authorities concerned in this regard,” he said.
The stone crushers not only use their machines to get gravels from the mountains they also use big quantity of explosives everyday to break the hills through blasting.
Hence, tons of gravels are obtained from the Margalla Hills every day for construction projects, and stone extraction is carried at such a large scale in the area that it has led to alarming levels of air pollution.
According to a study conducted by Pak-EPA, the total suspended particulate matters of the area detected touched 20,000 cubic metres whereas the permissible limit according to the National Environmental Quality Standards of Pakistan is 500 cubic metres.
However, ever since the devolution of the envaironment ministry, the departments, including Punjab government, Pak-EPA, local administration and Iesco have been reluctant to take further action in this regard.
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.