The Margalla Hills Society (MHS), established in 1989, is a registered non-governmental organization based in Islamabad. It is managed by an elected executive council and has been headed by Roedad Khan, one of the most senior former civil servants of Pakistan, since its creation in 1980. Its main objective is to preserve the natural environment of the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP), prevent shrinkage of green areas, and promote public awareness about and interest in conservation, development and management of forests, wildlife and other natural resources. It also aims to disseminate information about the MNHP, including its history, geography, culture, as well as its numerous benefits to the citizens of Islamabad.
Under Roedad Khan’s leadership, and with the support of the civil society, the MHS has been staging protests for the protection of the MHNP since the 1980s. Through its continuous efforts, it has successfully stopped the land mafia from damaging the Margalla Hills on various occasions. “The Margalla Hills are the heart of Islamabad, and destroying them will end the greenery and beauty of Islamabad forever”, said Roedad Khan. “This land mafia has been activated again, and we will compete at every forum in order to stop them”.
The Margalla Hills National Park is losing its natural habitat due to illegal construction work
On October 25th, 2013, the Supreme Court took Suo Moto action against the National Highway Authority (NHA) and Capital Development Authority (CDA) for constructing a tunnel that would connect the capital to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through Margalla Hills. The court ordered a halt to any construction and digging into the hills. The Supreme Court also asked the Chairman Capital Development Authority (CDA) to form a committee that would conduct a survey regarding the Margalla Hills National Park and prepare a report. The Parliament of Pakistan also looked into the matter under Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed’s sub-committee to investigate the irrevocable environmental damage caused by stone crushing in the area.
However, despite promises by the CDA to discontinue construction work around the MHNP, the latter has still suffered damage and destruction of its natural habitat due to illegal urban intrusions and tree cutting, which has also resulted in many animals fleeing the area. "The whole purpose of a national park is conservation and protection. Ideally, there is very little to no human activity in the core areas of national parks, and they are usually limited to research”, says Dr. Fakhar Abbas of the Bioresource Research Centre, “Unfortunately, the location of the Margalla Hills National Park means that it has become a recreational hub for people in Islamabad as opposed to a secluded, protected park".
This month, the Supreme Court again took up the contempt plea against the violation of the court’s 2013 order with reference to the petition filed by Israr Ahmed, and observed that the Islamabad Wildlife Protection and Conservation Ordinance prohibits any commercial activity in the Margalla Hills National Park. This bench was headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, who instructed the CDA chairman to take action against any such illegal activities. The petitioner, however, maintained that higher-ups of civic authorities had violated court orders by permitting a private cement factory to mine and crush limestone. He also claimed that almost 4,000 tonnes of limestone has been excavated on a daily basis, resulting in deforestation.
A view of the Margalla Hills
The MHNP was declared a national park on April 27th, 1980 under Section 21(1) of the Islamabad Wildlife (protection, conservation and management) Ordinance, 1979. This status firmly prohibits any commercial activity or residence in this area. However, a chain of hotels, built at the heart of this park, is destroying its habitat. A large variety of mammals, birds and reptiles were once found here, including the leopard, gray goral, barking deer, wild boar, jackal, red fox, lark, paradise flycatcher, black partridge, shrikes’ pheasant, spotted dove, Egyptian vulture, falcon, hawk, eagle, Russell's viper, Indian cobra and saw-scaled viper.
The growing commercial activities in violation of court orders are damaging the natural habitat of the precious wildlife in the area, and are also causing severe air pollution, resulting in human diseases. On the recent plea made by Israr Ahmed, the Supreme Court has strictly ordered the Capital Development Authority to discontinue all construction activities in the Margalla Hills National Park.
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