The incumbent Capital Development Authority (CDA) management has reinitiated work on a decade-old plan to set up a chairlift in the protected Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).
The plan -- which aims to provide a new, affordable recreational facility to locals and tourists from across Pakistan visiting the MHNP --- was previously shelved during its primary stages.
The proposal currently under consideration provides for operating cable cars from Islamabad Zoo, located in the foothills of the Margallas, to Makhiala Peak near Pir Sohawa village, with a brief stopover at Daman-e-Koh. The total length of the chairlift is approximately 2.5 kilometres.
“It is primarily meant to entertain visitors who cannot afford to hire private transport to visit the National Park area. The monetary returns for the CDA from this project are a secondary consideration,” CDA Chairman Nadeem Hasan Asif told The Express Tribune.
Asif said the authority would only initiate the project after due consideration of the proposal. In the first phase, the services of a consultant would be hired to analyse the economic and recreational viability of the project.
The cost of the ambitious project has yet to be worked out, the chairman said, adding that the manner of execution --- self-financing or public-private partnership --- would be discussed at a later stage.
History of the project
The project is not first envisaged. It was initially considered during the regime of former president Gen. (retd) Pervez Musharraf in early 2002. In 2003, then-interior minister Faisal Saleh Hayat vigorously pursued the project, but failed to execute it. In 2002, the total cost of the project was assessed at Rs500 million.
“At that time, the CDA board had not only approved the project, but also set aside Rs500,000 as consultancy fees for assessing the cost and evaluating the project,” a senior official of the authority said, adding that the plan at the time was to execute the project on build-operate-transfer basis.
He said under the original PC-I, the authority planned to install around 60 cable cars and the project was supposed to be completed within a year.
In 2002, the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) opposed the chairlift plan. “Pak-EPA refused to issue a no-objection certificate to the CDA after terming the project an ‘environment hazard’ as the authority would have to fell a number of trees along the designated route of the chairlift,” informed a senior Pak-EPA official. In addition, several nongovernmental organisations working on environmental issues also objected to the project.
“The Margalla Hills area was declared a national park in 1980. Under the Islamabad Wildlife Ordinance 1979, interfering in wildlife habitats is prohibited in national parks,” said the official, adding that the installation of a chairlift would also increase commercial activities and human presence in the protected area.
Interestingly, environmentalists did not present the only hurdle. Law enforcement agencies, specifically the Islamabad Police, also resisted the move for “security reasons”.
CDA Chairman Nadeem Hasan Asif said the agency will make sure to address environmental concerns this time around. Already, there are established public areas along the Margalla Hills where the base camp and final destination points can be set up.
“The CDA will not carve out new locations or points by removing vegetation or indigenous trees,” Asif said, while adding that to control littering along the route by visitors and set up new outlets, the authority would introduce and enforce strict rules.
He said over a 1,000 new saplings will be planted if the CDA has to remove a single tree along the chairlift route. “I’m sure not even a single tree will be chopped while executing this project,” Asif stated.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.