River Protection Act violation caused destruction in Swat

Most of buildings, including multiple hotels, constructed along River Swat with political clout and bureaucracy’s involvement grossly violate the River Protection Act 2014

September 15, 2022
The Swat river. File photo

ISLAMABAD: Most of buildings, including multiple hotels, constructed along River Swat with political clout and bureaucracy’s involvement grossly violate the River Protection Act 2014.

According to an official report, most of the new constructions, reconstructions and renovation of damaged illegal infrastructures, including hotels, were built in PTI’s tenure between 2014 and 2019 in violation of the law the PTI government had enacted itself.

Politicians, their close relatives and friends, who own several such structures, include those belonging to the PTI, PMLN and ANP. According to the law, “No person shall construct or undertake any related physical works of any commercial building or non-commercial building or undertake any other development work, within two hundred feet to be measured along the slope (lay off land) beyond high water limit on either side of the rivers or their tributaries or on a space within the limits between the banks of a river.”

Not only this point has been grossly violated, the provision of setting up special courts to try offences has been ignored. Under the act, special trial courts were to be established to deal with any case related to offences but no such court was established to-date.

The TMA criterion for construction in the area, including clearance from Environment Protection Agency, NOC from NHA/PKHA and irrigation department, soil testing report and structural fitness certificate, everything was ignored and none of the above standards had been adopted while constructing hotels and other structures along the river.

The report says that it happened because of the “negligence of the local administration and political influence.” The brother of a key political figure in the KP government is found to have pressured government departments to allow illegal constructions.

A former federal minister belonging to the PTI is found to have used his influence in the growth of these illegal structures. A key PMLN leader from the KP is also said to be the owner of one illegal hotel constructed there.

Regarding the bureaucracy’s role, the report says that all the departments concerned merely passed the buck in terms of issuing notices to multiple offices to save their skin. “These tactics were employed in collaboration with building owners.”

The report fears that if stringent measures are not taken, people will rebuild hotels in collaboration with the relevant authorities. “It is, therefore, imperative that responsibility for acts of omission and commission is fixed followed by necessary legal action.”

The report includes the names of influential hotel owners along with their political connections. It also contains the names of key administration officers who ignored most of the illegal construction as it was carried out.

The report says that tourism in the area has created a major interest group that holds enormous political clout and by virtue of the same they manipulate the system. The report recommends clear demarcation of the river bed by irrigation and revenue departments concerned as per the River Protection Act. It is also says the failure of the provincial government to establish dedicated trial courts for offences under the River Protect Act has supplemented illegal encroachments.