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EDITORIAL: In our rapidly growing cities the need for green spaces routinely gets ignored as the following case shows.

A public interest petition was moved in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the National Police Foundation (NPF), saying that its managing director was allotted a plot in its housing scheme, yet he was assigned a second plot in the space designated as a park/green area in the Capital Development Authority’s layout plan.

Sadly, however, IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq dismissed the petition on the ground that the foundation was a private trust; hence, a writ could not be issued against it. This was done despite the fact that there are precedents of the judiciary applying the Public Trust Doctrine to intervene in matters pertaining to protection of natural resources, including forests and public parks.

However, the petitioner, who was not even a beneficiary of the NPS’ housing project, did not give up and filed an appeal before the Supreme Court invoking Article 185 (3) and was granted leave to appeal. A two-member bench of the court led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa heard the case.

In its verdict issued the other day, the top court while noting that NPF would in certain cases be amenable to a high court’s jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution ruled that every designated park/green area must be preserved; these areas must not be allowed to be converted for exclusive private use or private profit.

Every word in the 21-page judgement written by Justice Isa must have struck a chord with concerned citizens, especially where it says “In blatant disregard of the people and the country, the elite capture land.

Autogenously exceptional and self-entitlement is hollowing out the State and creating an unsustainable environment.” This has gone on even though it is mandatory under the law for housing schemes to designate space for parks. Even the existing amenity plots are illegally transferred to influential people for private use or given away to real estate developers for construction of commercial projects. Pedestrian areas have also been encroached upon.

To state the obvious, preserving and expanding green spaces in cityscapes have a positive bearing on public health. They not only provide a place where people can go for a walk and become healthier or just to relax with their families, trees and other greens also improve air quality, and help reduce temperatures, which is all the more important to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Now that the apex court has weighed against misuse of land, brazen disregard for public interest must come to an end. That though is easier said than done considering the issue is knowingly ignored by provincial governments — under whose control it falls — to favour friends and benefactors. It is useless to expect them to set things right. Civil society groups need to step in and form monitoring committees to check violations and take the lawbreakers to court.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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