Monal restaurant sealed for illegal construction and chopping 200 precious trees
by Herald Reporter
Islamabad: Pakistan’s top court has ordered the capital administration to halt all illegal constructions on Margalla Hills.
The court ordered the capital administration to immediately halt the expansion of Monal Restaurant, a popular eatery and other construction activities at the picturesque hills which are protected under the conservation laws.
A five-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed gave the order while hearing a case regarding stone crushing and other commercial activities at Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).
It also ordered the ICT administration to replant trees that were felled during the attempted expansion.
The capital’s Chief Commissioner Amer Ali Ahmed informed the court that the administration had already sealed the eatery and taken action against the restaurant management.
The CJP said it had come to his notice that 500 to 1,000 trees had been felled for the expansion of the restaurant.
In his order, the CJP said that the Margalla Hills, which spread from Islamabad to Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was declared a national park and heritage site and no part of this area could, therefore, be allotted to any private individual for commercial activities or a private residence.
Mr Ahmed, who is also the chairman of the CDA, also told the court that a number of restaurants have developed in the area, while other establishments including Pine Residentia offer hotel and guest house services.
Monal restaurant was allowed construction by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in 2005. Later, few other restaurants including Lamontana, Gloria Jeans, Whispering Pines (located in KPK) and some other recreational activities spots were constructed in the MHNP in KPK area as well.
The court said all these constructions were illegal and against the spirit of the MHNP, and should be demolished.
The court summoned the owners of Monal and Pine Residentia to appear in court for the next hearing after the Eid holidays.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the capital’s Chief Commissioner in a joint action on Tuesday sealed the Monal Restaurant located at Margalla Hills for felling trees illegally for its expansive construction activities, the Ministry of Climate Change said.
According to reports, Pak-EPA Director General Farzana Altaf Shah dismissed rumours that the restaurant’s management cleared wild vegetation to protect the property and visitors from summer forest fires.
“Management of restaurants disregard environmental laws and look for loopholes to violate rules. Let’s not forget that these commercial spaces were built without environmental approvals in the first place. In this case, the restaurant has undertaken construction activity to expand premises,” Ms Shah told Dawn, adding that trees spread across eight to nine kanals of land were cleared.
The climate change ministry’s media focal person Mohammad Saleem told the press that illegal construction to expand Monal had been going on for a few days resulting in a significant loss of tree cover and land degradation.
The agency and the chief commissioner’s office sealed the commercial facility and lodged an FIR against those involved with the Secretariat police, he said.
Mr Saleem said that photographs of felling trees and land levelling were widely circulated on social media.
Regretting the significant loss of tree cover and land degradation, Mr Saleem said he was thankful to citizens for sharing pictures of the illegal act and massive cutting of trees on social media.
The capital administration carried out a raid that corroborated the images being shared online.
Two people were also arrested during the raid and an FIR was lodged with the Kohsar police.
The Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad’s environment wing has begun planting trees on the land that was cleared for the expansion of Monal after the restaurant was sealed.
Officials from the wing told Dawn that 450,000 square feet or 100 kanals of land was levelled by the owner of the restaurant and a large number of trees were felled.
Now, 1,125 saplings will be planted there in the first phase of a plantation campaign, of which 300 wild pomegranates, kachnar and amaltas (golden shower) sapling were planted on Tuesday.
Every effort will be made to restore the damaged land through plantation and carpeting of grass, environment wing officials said.
They said the construction activity began a few months ago but then stopped and only restarted recently. They said people had been discussing the matter on social media for several weeks.
They said that two notices were issued to the owners of the restaurant in the last few months by the environment wing, but practical action to halt construction was not taken.
— Islamabad Capital Territory (@ICTA_GoP) May 19, 2020
Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) falls under the jurisdiction of Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) and also extended into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab as per notification of April 1978. The total area of the Margalla Reserved Forest is 17,111 acres, which is surrounded by KP, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Some parts of the MHNP are also located in Shakarparian and Rawal Lake area.
The MHNP has been declared as a protected area and no construction activity causing damage to the environment, ecosystem and flora and fauna is allowed.
After Islamabad was built, the CDA approached the provincial government of West Pakistan to transfer management of these reserve forests, after which 12,511 acres — 11,870 acres of the Margalla Reserve Forest and 641 acres of Banigala — were leased to the CDA in 1961.
An agreement to this effect was signed between the West Pakistan agriculture secretary and the CDA’s horticulture directorate in 1966. In 1980, it was declared a national park.