LAHORE: The Punjab government has put various capital intensive projects on hold as most development funds have been diverted to the ongoing roads and public transport schemes in major cities of the province. Among other social sector development schemes, the government has also shelved National Safari Park (NSP) project on pretext of non-availability of funds, The Express Tribune learnt on Saturday.
Official documents indicated that the Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department (PWPD) had proposed development of a huge safari park in Salt Range on M-2 Lahore-Islamabad Motorway. The document showed that the government had also allocated Rs100 million for the NSP scheme in Annual Development Programme (ADP) for FY 2016-17. Total investment for the project was estimate as Rs10.48 billion and it was expected to be completed by June 2019, in three years, the documents highlight.
Documents made available to the Express Tribune revealed that the project was related to wildlife sector as it was aimed to develop natural resources, conservation, enrichment of flora/fauna and provision of recreational facilities. The project was intended to develop and promote eco-tourism in the region and its linkage with tourist sites of Salt Range.
It was aimed to provide recreational facilities to visitors of multiple cities, including commuters of Motorway, maintain indigenous wildlife species and display of exotic wildlife species.
Feasibility study of the project indicated that the NSP may be even larger than the usual size of the safari parks ranging between 200 to 750 acres; may be up to 3,000 acres that may also encompass natural habitats supporting the indigenous wildlife species of the area or from similar habitats/areas within Pakistan that would roam free without any fear of being harmed and the visitors could enjoy watching them both from their cars or walking on foot or in special protected vehicles.
The safari park in view would therefore be an enclosed park supporting a combination of natural habitats where the animals would roam freely; and the human induced semi-natural habitats where the wild animals would be kept in their natural or semi-wild state with fencing.
With this objective in view, whole of the Salt Range was visited. The emphasis, however, was on a state land of a sizeable area where natural habitat and the landscape would be intact and free from anthropogenic pressures, fairly close to the easily approachable locations connected to main roads and towns, close to other tourist attractions, having a moderate climate and a reasonably good supply of basic necessities including water.
Such conditions could normally only be provided in forests udeer state’s control. Hence all the major forest areas coming close to the conditions were visited to finally select the suitable site is identified at the hub of various tourist attractions spread over Mianwali, Chakwal, Jehlum and Khushab districts.
Feasibility report highlighted that the proposed location for the NSP has vast natural forests, green lands, natural wetlands, manmade lakes, historical sites, protected areas, spiritual sites, paleontological hotspots, natural torrents, rivers, museums and salt mines.
PWPD Director General Khalid Ayyaz Khan said his department has conducted a detailed study and made proposals for development of the NSP. Initially, several meetings were held and the government allocated some funds in its development budget. Later, it was decided to initiate the project under public-private partnership (PPP) model as the government had limited resources for development schemes. Khan pointed out that currently this project was laying pending with the PPP Cell of the Punjab government as no investor has expressed interest in the project yet.
Responding to a question, he said it was huge project having various aspects and it would be not feasible to partially initiate development works of the project.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2018.