Since the PML-N-led government took charge in the centre, the Punjab administration representatives have softened their stance on the Margalla Reserve Forest ownership issue — for obvious reasons.
“The Punjab Government backtracked from their earlier stance of reclaiming the management of forest land, which it had leased out to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in 1961,” said a senior Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration following a committee meeting held at the civic agency’s headquarters on Monday.
The meeting, chaired by CDA Chairman Nadeem Hassan Asif, was attended by CDA, ICT administration, Rawalpindi administration and Punjab Forest Division officials.
The committee was formed by the Cabinet Division in August 2012 after Punjab Forest Secretary Major (retd) Shahnawaz Badar penned a letter to the division and the CDA mentioning several violations the civic agency allegedly committed pertaining to a lease agreement it had signed with the Punjab Government.
During the fifth committee meeting on Monday, the Punjab Government did not reclaim the land’s management. The discussion instead centred on addressing the Punjab Forest Division’s reservations over the lease agreement violations and alleged illegal developmental activities on the forest land, according to a senior CDA official.
A six-member sub-committee was formed to investigate the allegation that 118 kanals of CDA-managed forest land was sold to a private land developer at the protected National Park area some time back.
“The area will be demarcated to determine whether the land sold is forest or private land,” said the official, adding that the sub-committee is scheduled to meet on August 16.
The CDA’s Environment director-general will be heading the sub-committee, which will comprise of Punjab’s chief conservator, Rawalpindi Revenue additional deputy commissioner (ADC), ICT Revenue ADC and a Survey of Pakistan representative. The CDA’s Environment director will be responsible for coordination between the members.
During the meeting, it was also learnt that the Punjab Forest Division’s concerns about a proposed layout for the under-construction Margalla Avenue — a road project announced by the CDA in 2011 — in violation of the lease agreement had already been addressed.
“We carried out a survey, which confirmed the Punjab Forest Division’s apprehensions. The CDA then realigned a portion of the road passing through the forest land,” said the official.
He added the civic agency recently withdrew a No Objection Certificate it had issued for the lease period’s extension to Fecto Cement.
During the PPP-led government’s tenure, the Punjab representatives were adamant about bringing the ownership issue before the Council of Common Interests (CCI).
The forest land originally belongs to the Punjab Government, but after Islamabad was declared as the capital in 1960, the CDA approached the West Punjab Government to request for ownership of the Margalla Reserve Forest’s management.
Responding to the request, Punjab leased out 11,970 of the 12,511 acres of forest land to the CDA for a 20-year period in 1961. After the lease expired in 1981, it was extended for another 10 years.
However, after 1991, neither did the civic agency ask for a second extension nor did the Punjab Government take any steps to reclaim the forest land’s ownership.
Only when the CDA started construction work of Margalla Avenue — that would pass through the forest near Labana Village in 2012 — did the Punjab Government act.
The Punjab forest secretary claimed the avenue’s construction would be in violation of the lease agreement signed between the West Pakistan agriculture secretary and CDA’s Horticulture Directorate in 1966.
He alleged that the CDA had failed to keep a check on the ever-increasing number of encroachments on Margalla Hills and reclaimed the land.
The CDA believes that after the Margalla Hills and adjoining areas were declared as National Park areas in 1979, the forest land was made part of it and thus now belongs to Islamabad rather than Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2013.
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