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September 5, 2018
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MCI lacks capability to extinguish fires in Margalla Hills

Islamabad

September 5, 2018

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Islamabad : Lack of professionalism and capacity at the end of Wild Life Management Board (WLMB) led to damages caused by recent fire in Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).

In a presentation to National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) on Tuesday, the Metropolitan Corporation of Islamabad (MCI) representative claimed that the Board recently assumed its responsibilities regarding prevention and control forest fires in MHNP. When the fire broke this season, it was revealed that the board neither had the capacity nor the capability to extinguish such fires.

As a result, the Environment Directorate Regional had to deploy the staff from urban areas of Islamabad in addition to their own staff from MHNP to control the fire but by that time the fire had spread over a large area and was extinguished through active help and participation of the National Disaster Management Authority, Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force through their helicopters.

The MCI representative gave a detailed briefing to the NCHR Chairperson during hearing of a case regarding fire in Margalla Hills at NCHR head office in Islamabad. The Director Environment Irfan Niazi was representing the Metropolitan Corporation of Islamabad (MCI). The case was heard after a complaint was filed with NCHR.

During the hearing, the Director Environment Regional MCI told that Margalla Hills National Park covers of 31,150 acre of land comprising three types of land including reserved forest departments leased out by Punjab forest department to Capital Development Authority (CDA), military grazing lands and land acquired by villagers.

He said that the incidents of fire in Margalla Hills National Park are not new. Fire season is observed in the MHNP from April 15 to July 15 every year due to high temperature, high speed winds and availability of combustible material such as dry leaves etc.

He said that every year, Environment Directorate CDA deploys 400 daily paid staff for prevention and control of fire incidents in MHNP for a period of three months which is distributed in 32 pickets through-out the entire area.

As per preservation of Wild Life Ordinance 1979 and Wild Life Management Rules 1980, a Wild Life Management Board was to be formed headed by the Chairman CDA and comprising of the members both from public and private sectors. Unfortunately, the Board was not formed until 2015 when the federal government, through ministry of CADD, formed the Wild Life Management Board by changing its composition and increasing the number of the members of the board. The NCHR was informed that the Chairmanship of the board was entrusted to a private person who has no previous experience. The board, after approval from the government, engaged some staff as well.

NCHR Chairperson was briefed that before the start of current fire season, the Chairman of the Board requested Environment Directorate not to engage the daily paid staff for prevention and control of staff in MHNP as the same was mandated to the Board. In response to his letter, the staff was not hired and the same was intimated to the Chairperson of Board who in return conveyed in writing that the board has assumed its responsibilities regarding prevention and control forest fires in MHNP.

When the fire broke out it was revealed that the board neither had the capacity nor the capability to extinguish such fires. The environment directorate regional had to deploy the staff from urban areas of Islamabad in addition to their own staff from MHNP to control the fire but by that time the fire had spread over a large area and was extinguished through active help and participation of the National Disaster Management Authority, Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force through their helicopters.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court also took suo-motu notice of the incident and formulated a committee headed by Federal Ombudsman with the mandate to assess the reason behind fire and propose SOPs to avoid such incident in future by taking all the stakeholders on board. The recommendations had already been submitted in the court.

It was shared that wild life management board in Islamabad has proposed certain amendments in the Wild Life Management Rules 1980 which are contrary to the wild life rules being followed in all the provinces of the country.

The Wild Life Board operating in provinces are headed by the concerned Chief Minister or Chief Secretary of the province with a clear mandate and role of advisory and monitoring functions. The wild life board in Islamabad is not only ambitious to take the executive role but, through their proposal submitted in CADD, has proposed that entire land (31150 acres of MHNP) should be transferred through mutation to the Wild Life Management Board and the board may also be allowed the right of disposal of land. The CDA has already challenged these proposed amendments at every forum.

Adjourning the hearing, Chairman NCHR fixed a next date for the hearing and directed that CADD representatives be summoned in the next hearing to present their side of the story.

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