Pollutants endangering wildlife, biodiversity – 14 Nov 2022

Restaurants, food chains continue to discharge sewage into protected national park

Sewage and other waste of restaurants and food chains continue to pollute the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP), threatening the entire ecosystem including the wildlife.

The garbage and sewage waste of restaurants and food chains have been posing a serious risk to wildlife and biodiversity in the protected area.

Different hotels and recreational spots established in the national park, with their number mounting with each passing day are gradually eating up the beauty of the area as the local administration has failed to put in place a mechanism to regulate these outlets and dispose of waste properly.

Forming the foothill of the Himalayan mountain range and sprawling over 17,000-hectare land, 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 the attractive tourist spots and a source of amusement for the federal capital residents of its zigzagging road leading to Pir Sohawa and beyond, walking tracks, tall pines and small brooks.

But, rapid urbanisation in the federal capital and areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa adjoining the national park have stirred competition for development.

In recent years, under the garb of promoting tourism, 17 restaurants and 20 shops have been constructed at six different locations namely Damn-e-Koh Viewpoint, Damn-e-Koh Road, Saidpur Village, Pir Sohawa, Mandla and Nurpur (Lohay Dandi Track).

These restaurants and dozens of shops do not have waste disposal systems and they discharge the sewage into Margalla Hills forest, its vicinity or the water courses within the park.

“Many of these restaurants were established without any Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and their unmanaged anthropogenic intervention was damaging the environment,” said, Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB)Chairperson Rina Saeed Khan.

“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,” Rina Saeed said.

She said after concerted efforts and litigation, the IWMB had been successful to get a landmark verdict against the restaurants from Islamabad High Court (IHC).

“The IHC had directed to stop further encroachments to protect the national park also declaring the construction of buildings and leases granted to hotels and other commercial and food outlets within the protected area as in violation of the respective CDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Ordinances. “We had approached the CDA for implementation of the decision but they ignored it,” she said.

“The apex court granted a stay order 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,” Rina Saeed said.

She also said that floodlights 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, the CDA spokesperson said that environmental protection was not their responsibility. “We owe the responsibility of maintaining roads, parking areas and their cleanliness. The protection of wildlife, habitat and walking tracks is the responsibility of the Pak-EPA.

Even if one agrees with the argument of CDA, the authority cannot deny possessing the powers to grant a no-objection certificate for the construction of settlements in its jurisdiction including the national park. It has allowed these hotels to carry out businesses in the national park and the protected area.

Meanwhile, an official of the Pak-EPA said that the agency did not issue NOCs to any entity for construction within the national park jurisdiction. “The land belonged to the CDA and it is responsible for protecting it.” “On our part, we have already moved against La Montana and Gloria Jeans and these cases are pending before the Environmental Protection Tribunal in the federal capital,” the official said.

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

The official said it was not a matter of Margalla Hills alone but of our whole nation. “We cannot deprive our coming generation of achieving sustainable development goals through ill-planned practices.” We realize it or not, the National Park has gained international attraction after declaring some of its portions as “leopard preserve zones”, he said.

“Protection of natural assets like wildlife, habitat and flora and fauna is our shared responsibility and the departments concerned cannot shy away simply by passing the buck.”

Additional input from APP

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