RAWALPINDI: Parks are supposed to be enjoyed, not feared. Unfortunately, in Dhok Syedan, the only public playground has turned into a breeding ground for disease, for which the residents can ‘thank’ the authorities.
“Four years ago, local children and others from nearby areas used to play at this ground, but the ground has now been turned into a garbage dump,” said Muhammad Mushtaq, a teacher who lives in Dhok Syedan.
The playground, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB), is spread over an area of 108 kanals.
According to official documents, a lawyer had filed a petition in a local court against the Military Estate Office’s (MEO) attempts to sell off part of the playground, which belongs to the Punjab Government.
The court issued a stay order on April 16, 2009 against the sale and warned against any construction work.
“Immediately after the court order, thousands of tons of garbage were dumped at the ground overnight,” said Advocate Anwar Dar, who filed the petition against the MEO.
The court had ordered RCB to remove the solid waste, but cantonment authorities dumped dirt and construction debris over the garbage to hide it, thereby violating the court orders.
Residents recalled with sadness the trees which had died due to the debris that has been dumped at the site. The garbage is often incinerated, with the resultant smoke and stench hovering above neighboring homes. Water seepage has also contaminated the ground water in these areas.
Mushtaq, a local resident, said that he used to teach his pupils about the importance of preserving the environment by taking them to the ground and lecturing them under the shadows of the trees. “The trees have completely disappeared from the ground now,” he said.
The smell arising from the garbage is unbearable but residents have no option but to tolerate it.
“The stench from the garbage is very hard to ignore, but we have to deal with it and move on with our lives,” said Mushtaq, adding that it also provided the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.
“Until four years ago, my children roamed freely in the playground with their friends. While it wasn’t particularly well-maintained, there was still a ground to play on,” said Haleema, a local resident.
Huge heaps of garbage including plastic covers, glass bottles, household waste, and chemical waste from hospitals or clinics are scattered all over the ground.
When contacted, RCB Chief Executive Officer Rana Manzoor alleged that locals dump their household garbage at the ground at will. “We have cleared the ground several times but local residents manage to fill it again within a week,” he said before disconnecting the line.
The fact that environmental consultants and other experts were not hired to examine whether the ground could legitimately be used as a dumping site is a violation of basic environmental laws, according to District Environment Officer Shaukat Hayat.
“No site can be turned into a dumping yard unless a consultant carries out an extensive survey which points to the contrary, Hayat told The Express Tribune.
The ground has also fallen prey to encroachers whose illegal constructions are a brazen violation of the court’s directives. “Most of the ground has been encroached by land grabbers,” informed 65-year-old Sardar, a local resident. The MEO could not be reached to confirm Sardar’s comments.
The saddest part though, is that the children of Dhok Syedan may never get another chance to enjoy using what was once a treasured playground.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2013.
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