NARC was founded in 1984 and to-date, it is the largest and oldest agricultural research institute in Pakistan. It is located in Phase IV of the Islamabad Capital Territory, reserved for government educational and research institutions as COMSATS, NIH (National Institute of Health), Urdu University, Hamdard University, Pak-Turk School and NARC. The original master plan of the city had provisions to protect areas of ecological significance, particularly Zones III, IV and V; however, on several occasions, these provisions were bypassed. While the purpose of Phase IV was modified by a questionable Cabinet decision in 2010, but since Phase IV is the largest zone of the Master Plan, measuring over 282 sq km, why remove the NARC for a housing scheme when there are other large tracts of undeveloped land available in that zone?
Billions have been invested in NARC, both by foreign donors and the government of Pakistan. One consultant of USAID declared,“ among the developing countries, this is the best national agricultural research facility of any nation”. JICA (Japanese donor agency) assisted NARC in building a state of the art Plant Genetic Research Institute to develop plant diversity for food security of the country. Shifting of genetic material to some other place is practically impossible. Due to the research carried out in their Animal Sciences Institute, Pakistan was the only country in the SAARC region that remained free of bird flu. 50,000 cows and buffaloes died of the Rinder Pest disease in Gilgit-Baltistan area in 1995. The research at NARC has successfully eradicated the disease. Equipped with green houses, labs and gene banks, the institute has been responsible for introduction of fruits and vegetables that were previously unknown to the region (avocados, strawberries, and broccoli amongst others), and substantial improvements in livestock output. NARC’s research has multiplied Pakistan’s wheat yield per acre five times since independence. It has diverted major disasters such as crop disease epidemics, poultry viruses and famines resulting from low crop yields. Furthermore, the facilities constructed at NARC over the last thirty years are immovable: forests, experimental agricultural land, seed banks and gene labs are all facilities that are either immovable, or pieces of land that can only be recreated over a span of 20 years or more. NARC simply cannot be moved to an alternate location.
The capital’s rising population, associated use of private rather than public transport and the general indifference towards the environment are all gradually pushing the capital towards destruction. Reports indicate that the temperature rise in the capital is twice that of the global average; people aware of climate change are conscious of the fact that even a one degree change in temperature can cause torrential rains, flash flooding, extended dry spells and result in a plethora of ailments for common people. Encroachment upon forested land such as that of NARC, will only serve to exacerbate the deforestation ofIslamabad. Motivated by political and economic interests, CDA is intent upon destroying the natural landscape of the capital.
The last factor that CDA has used cleverly in its bid to take over NARC is the lease agreement that was signed between CDA and NARC at the time of its inception. The lease was signed for 90 years, renewable every thirty-years. Since 2005, when it was due for renewal, CDA has not hesitated in accepting the yearly rent from NARC over the last ten years; therefore, according to most legal reckonings, the lease stands renewed. NARC provides housing for its employees, in the same way that the Quaid-i-Azam University and other institutions do; it is not for commercial purposes.
When the world is moving towards a knowledge-based economy, is Pakistan going to sacrifice its premier national agriculture research institution for a housing scheme? It is a test of the integrity of our policy-makers, civil society, media and judiciary, for the financial killing to be made by private developers will grease many a palm.
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