Fun picnics vs green cover

June 23, 2024

Some picnickers have expressed disappointment with the SC verdict ordering relocation of a popular restaurant from National Park land

Fun picnics vs green cover


The recent Supreme Court verdict to remove Monal Restaurant from Margalla Hills National Park area has caused ripples across media. The verdict says that all commercial ventures on the National Park land have to relocate.

The SC order has come as a surprise to many people and not a pleasant one for all of them. Muhammad Attyab, a college student from the Punjab, tells The News on Sunday he has enjoyed eating on the terrace reserved for families at the iconic restaurant on Margalla Hills.

“The food is not too good. But the view is incredible. You cannot find a place that overlooks Islamabad and its hills like this. There’s nothing like this,” says Attyab’s mother who’s dining with him.

The news of imminent closure of the popular restaurant has disappointed many.

Tahir Abbas says he believes it is quite unnecessary to remove the restaurant. A resident of Naval Anchorage, Islamabad, Abbas says that Islamabad has few recreational spots quite like the Monal in terms of service and scenic beauty.

Ali Hassan, a young footballer, says the Restaurant should not be closed. “The steep climb that leads to the restaurant is a thrilling experience. The seating arrangement and food are both of high quality,” he says.

The restaurant has long symbolized the kind of commercial activity that threatens to pollute the environment and spur further deforestation. To put things in perspective, there was no Monal Restaurant until the Musharraf era. Only occasional hikers would be spotted in the area. The road leading to Pir Sohawa was bumpy and dilapidated.

As CDA chairman, Kamran Lashari took it upon himself to build a road suitable for all kinds of traffic. It was at that time that license for a kiosk and use of open space was granted to owners of Monal Restaurant, says a CDA official, dealing with the case.

“[After that] all hell broke loose. The serene and picturesque hills became hard to spot, thanks to the smoke from the vehicles on the road. The kiosk expanded into a large restaurant with parking and toilets. The open space was turned into marbled terraces,” he recalls.

An examination of the social media pages of Monal Restaurant shows that beauty of Margalla Hills was their main claim to attract people. People came. They came by motorcycles, small cars, SUVs, passenger vans and freight trucks.

These vehicles leave behind polluted air. With an increase in footfall, the litter also increased. Lashari’s bid to level the hill and construct Sohawa Road was a partial success. The road runs through steep cliffs and cannot accommodate disorderly traffic. As a results, accidents are common.

According to the CDA official, matters worsened when Pakistan Army staked a claim on these hills.

“They brought a document from pre-Partition era that mentioned these hills as grass cutting fields for the soldiers who used to move on mules, donkeys and horses.”

“In 2019-2020, Monal started depositing an annual rent in an army account. The CDA objected to this and the matter landed in a court of law. The restaurant was sealed but soon reopened,” he says.

But the damage was done. Dr Chaudhry Sharafat Ali, president of School of Law and Development, says that when the courts started looking into the matter, there were major problems.

Islamabad High Court gave a series of verdicts to remove Navy Golf Club from the National Park area and Navy Club from Rawal Lake. “The main issue is ownership of land. Originally, the Punjab government owned this land. Then Islamabad was founded and the land fell in the jurisdiction of the CDA. These are grey areas that need to be addressed legally,” Dr Ali says.

The formation of Islamabad Wildlife Management Board too has not been above controversy. It has been pointed out that while Universities in Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been producing quality PhDs in wildlife and climate sciences, their knowledge and research have not benefited this board.

Critics have said their social media platforms show that most of their activities have attracted more diplomats and international tourists than local citizens. The board has also been accused of behaving more like a public relations organisation than a problem solver. Had it been working properly, they say, these issues would never have come up.

The CDA official says that Monal’s chances in a review appeal are slim.

The writer teaches data journalism at IIUI

Fun picnics vs green cover