The Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) has asked the capital’s civic agency and the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) to seek a mandatory environmental clearance from it before initiating any recreational project within the protected Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).
The direction was conveyed through a letter written recently by the Pak-EPA to both entities.
In the letter – seen by The Express Tribune – the Pak-EPA has mentioned a proposed project of installation of a chairlift in the MHNP and stated that the environmental watchdog had not been contacted to get a mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project.
Pak-EPA observed that it got the knowledge of the project through the press besides directing both the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and PTDC to get mandatory EIA before initiating any recreational project within the MHNP.
Acknowledging receipt of the letter, PTDC managing director Kabir Ahmad Khan said currently the PTDC was in a process of taking over ownership of that project from the CDA.
Read: Margalla Hills National Park: Policymaking board to be constituted soon, says cabinet division
“CDA has already agreed in principle to hand over this project to PTDC. Once this process is completed, Pak-EPA will certainly be contacted to get the required EIA,” Khan said.
In 2002 when the project was conceived, the Pak-EPA had refused to grant a no-objection certificate citing environmental concerns. Seeing the situation, the then CDA management accepted the reservations of environmentalists and Pak-EPA shelved the project.
After the 2013 general election, when the PML-N came to power, the project was reviewed. In 2014, the CDA even sought expression of interest from consultant firms. Six firms had shown interest, but the whole process was scrapped later on.
The project involves installation of a chairlift, whose base camp will be located near Islamabad Zoo while it would culminate at Makhiala Peak near Pir Sohawa Village with a brief stopover at Daman-e-Koh. The total length of the chairlift will be approximately 2.5 kilometres and according to rough estimates, the project will cost around Rs1.5 billion.
Controversy over transfer of mandate
Khan informed that CDA has principally agreed to hand over construction of this project to PTDC following a federal government’s decision to this effect.
It requires transfer of mandate on the patron the CDA did in the case of construction of the Metro Bus Project (MBP).
In MBP, the CDA had surrendered its mandate of construction within its municipal limits to the Rawalpindi Development Authority.
Read: Margalla Hills National Park: PTDC to execute chairlift project
The PTDC official further informed that the prime minister had given verbal directions to PTDC to takeover the project.
“The CDA chairperson has assured that soon he will take the case to the CDA board to get the formal approval” Khan added.
He said as it would be a non-profit project, the CDA had been asked to provide land for a base station and terminating point for the chairlift on soft lease.
Khan informed that the PTDC had completed feasibility survey of the project. He explained that PTDC would not finance the project, as it would be executed on a build-operate-transfer basis.
On the other, a senior CDA officer asking not to be named said the CDA chairman could not take the case to the CDA board until the Cabinet Division — which is the controlling body of the CDA — conveyed the PM’s decision to the CDA in black and white.
Contrary to the claim of the PTDC managing director, the officer said the issue was not on the agenda of the upcoming CDA board meeting.
CDA spokesperson Ramzan Sajid when contacted said he did not have knowledge of the issue. However, he said any decision to handover the project to PTDC would be done in accordance with rules and regulations.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2015.