The famous Sarban Hill, situated close to the divisional headquarters, is losing its beauty as unchecked quarrying and ever-expanding housing pose a threat to its structure. This could spell disaster for people settled in the foothills.
Abbottabad city, divisional headquarters of Hazara, is surrounded by Shimla and Sarban hills. Sarban Hill serves as a natural habitat for various species of trees and wildlife. There are also crystal-clear springs flowing down the hills, which attract a constant stream of visitors along the Karakoram Highway.
However, an expanding population leading to unplanned housing and merciless logging are chiefly responsible for the destruction of the hill as is quarrying, carried out in connivance with officials supposed to preserve the hill.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani recently approved a six-kilometre metalled road project for Rs60 million for Nagaki village, where an influential saint from Rawalpindi district got his followers to donate 72 kanals on the hill, said sources.
Works and Services Department Executive Engineer Tassaduq Hussain Shah said the road project was nearly complete.
“Although the land belongs to private owners but changing the structure of a landmark, which serves as a tourist attraction and is of national importance, is against the law,” said Ahsan Khan an environmentalist.
Some private owners are also destroying the famous hill by establishing housing societies. “Without fulfilling the legal requirement of obtaining an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) from the Environmental Protection Agency before the launch of any project is a violation of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) 1997, said Advocate Yasir Khan Tanoli, while talking to The Express Tribune.
He confirmed that his department and other private developers had not obtained EIA for the housing societies or the road project. Private contractors are quarrying unchecked on the hill, excavating and selling rock for construction.
According to Muhammad Hussain, a local housing expert, the hill has huge deposits of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. “If the quarrying for rock continues this way, it will weaken the hill,” he said.
The leftover sediment could cause landslides and flash floods, endangering the lives and property of people living at the foot of the hill. This applies in particular to residents of Kunj, Kehal and Banda Sapan, Lower Malikpura who may be washed away in case of a minor tremor or heavy rain in future, he added.
Muhammad Riaz, a local mines inspector confirmed that the provincial mines department had approved five leases for excavation of hard stone from the hill.
When asked whether the lease owners or the mines department got EIA, he claimed that his department has its own laws and is not bound to follow the PEPA 1997.
“Some influential locals are involved in the business which is a constant threat to the environment and the people,” said an official source who requested that his name be withheld.
The Tehsil Municipal Authority had written a letter to the Abbottabad district coordination officer last November, to ban housing in Kehal, Sarban Hill but no action has been taken as yet, the official added.
Khan said that even though the land is private property, it is national heritage which needs to be protected by the environment and tourism departments. He suggested that private owners should be compensated for their property to preserve the hill.
Excavation, housing societies and felling of trees should be completely banned even if the hill is not purchased by the government, Khan suggested.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2012.