A club at Rawal Lake

November 8, 2020

The Navy Club at Rawal Lake has run into trouble over legality. Buildings cannot be allowed at the National Park area as per Supreme Court orders

The Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) submitted its report on the Navy Club to Islamabad High Court (IHC) last week in a case about its construction and blocking of public access.

This has set off a sharp surge in criticism of the facility at the few social media portals that still carry some details about it.

Mainstream media channels have largely missed out reporting content of the Pak-EPA report, some of its points have been leaked to social media.

Farzana Altaf Shah, the director general of the Pak-EPA, tells this scribe that Pakistan Navy “sought no permission whatsoever” from her agency prior to the beginning of construction.

“Even the environmental impact assessment was sent to us after the building was constructed. The assessment has to be made before start of the construction,” she says.

“We have submitted our reply to the court last week,” she says.

Anas Ahmed, a documentary film maker working on environment, tells this scribe that a variety of NOCs and permissions are required before starting any construction in Islamabad. Recently, he says, the city managers have taken down a lot of buildings for not having the necessary documents.

“My question is, why has anyone not yet torn down this illegal structure?” he asks.

He says that it exists in National Park area which is protected against such construction and commercial activities through national and international laws.

Dr Azizur Rehman, chairman of the Department of Sharia and Law at International Islamic University (IIU), tells TNS that there are precedents of removing such structures even from public parks.

In the recent past, a golf club was removed from a public park in Jinnah Super on court order because the law does not allow its construction.

In the case of construction of McDonalds in F-9 Park, the authorities have had to prove in the court that the corner in which it was constructed is not part of the park, he says, otherwise it would have been removed.

Dr Rehman had submitted a complaint with the PM Portal that the authorities have closed the road on which this club is constructed, which is an infringement on the citizens’ right to move. In the reply, he was informed that the road is closed because any citizen can swim and drown in the lake from that point.

“This is ridiculous. A citizen can drown in the lake from any other point where public access is available. Everyone knows that it is in violation of the law but if you try to go and walk on that road, the guards deal with you menacingly,” he says.

However, Pakistan Navy officials, serving as well as retired, have adopted silence on this matter. “I’m not permitted to speak on this matter. Hope that you understand,” an officer tells this scribe.

The reply that Pakistan Navy has submitted to the court mentions that in 1990s the then prime minister had given this land to them to set up National Water Sports Centre (NWSC). It states that the building is not for commercial purposes and care has been taken to ensure that it does not affect the environment.

Finding the Pakistan Navy reply unsatisfactory, the IHC, ordered sealing of the club and observed that respect for the martyrs doesn’t mean that anyone is above the law. “Even this court is not above the law,” it observed, and sought a report from the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

In its report, the civic body mentioned that it had served Pakistan Navy with a notice to stop this construction even before the case was filed in the court. However, on receiving the notice to stop the construction, Pakistan Navy expedited the construction work and completed it, the CDA chairman told the court appearing in person.

The civic body stated that no permission was sought to build this structure. Even the building plan was not submitted, it said.

Mome Saleem, an environment protection activist, tells this scribe, “First and foremost, this building does not have EIA (Environment Impact Assessment). If the EIA was ever done, I do not think such a building would ever have come into existence. Second, this is not an ordinary dam. From Rawal Dam, water is supplied to Rawalpindi for drinking.”

She says that discharge of sewer in the lake will lead to waterborne diseases. There is already much pollution in this lake, she says.

“Since the EIA has not been done, it isn’t clear how much water they would draw from the dam. In short, it’s a disaster,” she says.

Farzana Altaf Shah, the Pak EPA DG, tells this scribe that this structure is in clear violation of Section 12 of environment protection laws.

“We have conveyed these points to the court in our reply,” she says.

Attached with this case is the case of Navy Farmhouses at Simly Dam Islamabad. The Navy is also operating a housing society in the capital. The court has put a question mark on this extended construction activity.

“We will not allow any construction activity on National Park’s land as the Supreme Court has already given a ruling on the matter,” the IHC observed.

However, it is generally believed that the club is here to stay and eventually common people will not be able to visit Rawal Lake. “Already, extended commercial activity is going on in the name of Lakeview Park. National Parks are meant to maintain biodiversity. Climate change is upon us. The sooner we understand this the better,” says Dr Rehman.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

A club at Rawal Lake: Navy Club runs into trouble over legality