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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) observed that the federal government, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board appear to have been complacent in the destruction of the notified areas of the "National Park" and the "Wildlife Sanctuary".

A single bench of Chief Justice Athar Minallah, on Tuesday, passed an order on a petition seeking directions for the protection and preservation of the Margalla Hills National Park.

It directed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Climate Change Amin Aslam, Secretary Ministry of Climate Change and chairman CDA to jointly survey the notified areas of the "National Park" and the "Wildlife Sanctuary" and submit a report highlighting the damage caused to the hills.

The chief justice said; "They are also expected to take immediate measures to save the notified area from further harm."

"The officials shall forthwith ensure that no construction takes place nor any illegal activity is carried out within the notified areas of the "National Park," he added.

The Attorney General for Pakistan, Khalid Jawed Khan, who appeared before the bench, requested for adjournment to enable him to examine the questions raised in the petitions.

The IHC bench noted; "The attorney general after examining the purported grant of more than eight thousand acres of land in the "National Park" in favour of Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate of the G.H.Q. shall assist this Court regarding its legality because it, prima facie, appears to be in violation of the laws enforced within the Islamabad Capital Territory and Article 173 of the Constitution."

It added the CDA shall submit a report justifying leasing out land in the "National Park" in favour of M/s Monal Group of Companies and allowing the latter to execute a purported lease agreement with Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate.

The bench said the members of the committee constituted vide paragraph 8(i) are expected to identify the officials and authorities responsible for destruction of the notified area of the "National Park" and suggest how they could be made accountable for their acts and omissions.

It maintained that the members of the committee shall be jointly and severally responsible, if there is further encroachment or destruction of the notified area of the "National Park".

The court said the director general, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency shall conduct an independent survey of the notified area of the "Wildlife Sanctuary" and the "National Park" and submit a report, inter alia, highlighting the extent of environmental degradation and suggest measures to protect it from further destruction.

It continued that the injunctive order, dated 3 March 2021, passed in CR No13/2021 is modified to the extent that till the next date fixed, the due rent shall be deposited in the court where the suit is pending.

The IHC noted; "The federal government is not vested with power or jurisdiction to make allotments or lease out part of the notified area of the "National Park". The order said that it appears that the Board constituted under the Ordinance of 1979 has failed in its statutory obligation to protect, preserve and conserve the "National Park".

Justice Minallah wrote that the allotment and grant of lease, prima facie, appears to be illegal and in violation of Article 173 of the Constitution and the provisions of the Ordinance of 1979. The activities within the "National Park" also appear to be in violation of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1997.

He observed that the federal government, the CDA and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board appear to have been complacent in the destruction of the most precious natural asset of the people of Pakistan, i.e., the notified areas of the "National Park" and the "Wildlife Sanctuary".

The IHC said it is an undeniable fact that failure to protect, conserve and preserve the notified area of the "National Park" and violations of the Master Plan have serious consequences, which inevitably leads to environmental degradation, climate change and global warming.

It mentioned that Pakistan is among the top countries of the world ranked as most vulnerable to the life threatening outcome of climate change. Experts have classified Pakistan as a prime target of global warming.

The encroachment and destruction of the "National Park" has life threatening consequences for the people of Pakistan. Those who are responsible for the irreversible damage and destruction of the "National Park" have put lives of the future generations at great risk. The hearing was adjourned till December 12.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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