Margalla Hills National Park is fast losing its charm due to unregulated commercial activity
"I’m extremely disappointed with Margalla Hills this time. When I came here five years ago I was very happy. This place had certain calmness and its natural beauty had great attraction," says Muhammad Usman, a government servant.
The heaps of garbage and the growing commercial activity that are damaging the picturesque Margalla Hills saddened Usman.
The Margala Hills were declared a national park in April 1980. Lack of proper waste management and cleanliness gives Margalla Hills an ugly look and is also damaging the natural habitat of the precious wildlife in the area.
Five years back there was only one restaurant in the area, Usman recalls. "Now there are handcarts on every turn of the Margalla Road, selling cold drinks, snacks and other items".
Over time, a large number of restaurants have opened near Pir Sohawa. The handcarts and the restaurants do not have any waste management system. Visitors throw plastic bottles and other waste in the forest area and pollute the hills.
Commercial activities on Margalla Hills without any proper planning are also disturbing the wildlife. "Injured monkeys beaten by visitors are seen in the hills," says Mome Saleem, an environmentalist.
"A large number of species come to this national park and when they eat plastic in any form it affects them. The plastic affects the seeds bank and disturbs the soil of the forest," she says.
Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) covers approximately 17,386 hectares (67.13sq/m). Tilla Charouni which is 1604m high is the tallest peak in the national park, declared so on April 27, 1980 under Section 21(1) of the Islamabad Wildlife (protection, conservation and management) Ordinance, 1979 and also affirmed as a wildlife sanctuary.
This status strictly prohibits any commercial activity and settlement in the area but a chain of hotels, mushrooming in this diverse park, is destroying the whole environment.
Hundreds of cars travel on the winding road every day towards restaurants located in the park, creating pollution and intruding in the delicate habitat of wildlife at MHNP.
Umer Farooq, who has a tea stall near Pir Sohawa, says, "There was so much rush on the eve of Eid ul Fitr that it took more than four to five hours to reach the park from Islamabad," he says.
Margalla Hills are also the boundary line between the Federal Capital, Islamabad and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. One side of the Margalla Hills falls in District Haripur of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while the other side is Islamabad. This factor also affects the regulation of the commercial activities on this national park.
"Only two restaurants located near Daman-e-Koh are located in the CDA’s jurisdiction while the rest of the handcarts and restaurants are located in District Haripur," says Safdar Shah, Director Public Relations at Capital Development Authority. However, all the environmental issues come under the ambit of the Directorate of Environment of Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad.
When contacted, Assistant Director Environment Altaf Hussain admitted that hotelling and all other commercial activities on and around Margalla Hills are in violation of National Park Law but unfortunately the competent authority does not take into consideration suggestions or recommendations of the Directorate of Environment before issuing trade licence to any hotel or handcart in the area.
"Sewerage water of the restaurants has reached Saidpur model village passing through the Margalla Hills," Hussain says. "Also, lighting and music in these restaurants is also disturbing the delicate habitat of wildlife. From the point of view of environment, all these commercial activities are illegal."
Sub-Divisional Forest Officer of Haripur Asif Mehmood says that locals have constructed hotels on their own land and do not need any licence for it. "However, I have written multiple letters to the higher authorities to take measures to stop the cutting of trees in this area but have not received any reply," he says.
Asif maintains that if the cutting of trees continues in the same manner, the area will become residential and commercial area in the near future.
Farzana Altaf Shah, Director General of Federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA), says that the restaurants claim that they have proper waste management system, however EPA has received complaints about pollution in Margalla National Park and will take action as per law, she maintains.