Punjab blocks Margalla Avenue project
ISLAMABAD, June 27: The Punjab government has taken its opposition to the federal government up another notch by blocking a much hyped CDA project – the Margalla Avenue.
Margalla Avenue, the construction of which is set to cost CDA a billion rupees, had been planned on land that the Punjab government has now discovered was leased out by it at the time of the establishment of the federal capital.
Suddenly waking up to its ownership of this land, Lahore has now objected to this project.
In May this year, the Capital Development Authority launched the project. Called the Margalla Avenue, the nine kilometre road was to shorten the commute for the travelers headed to or returning from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Running in the foothills of the Margalla, the road was to hit G.T. Road at one end and Sector D 12 at the other. At places, the road runs next to as yet barren land that is said to have been bought by a number of political personalities and other affluent people.
A senior official of the authority, not wishing to share his name, claimed that “this road will benefit those who own large swathes of land around the forest land and will only benefit the mighty and rich.”
The project was launched with great fanfare and on May 24, the CDA had published special supplements on its ground-breaking ceremony. It was seen to be a pet project of the then chairman of the Prime Minister’s Task Force, Faisal Sakhi Butt.
The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
However, documents suggest that CDA inadvertently planned and started construction of this road on forest land leased by the Punjab government. As a result, the latter has protested to the CDA.
According to a letter, the copy of which is available with Dawn, received by the CDA’s management on June 1, Punjab’s forest secretary has asked the authority that it was violating the lease by establishing a road on “forest land”.
Secretary Forest Punjab Shahnawaz Badar has said in the letter that the CDA, soon after declaration of Islamabad as capital city of Pakistan in 1960, approached the then provincial government of West Pakistan for the transfer of reserve forest which was under the control of the Forest Department.
“In this respect out of total 12,511 acres of Margalla Reserve Forest, 11,870 acres… was leased out to CDA under a lease agreement of 20 years. The lease agreement was signed between secretary agriculture West Pakistan and Horticulture Directorate CDA during 1966.
The lease period of both reserve forests expired on June 1981 and June 1991, respectively but neither the possession of forest land was handed over back to Punjab Forest Department nor was the lease period extended.”
When contacted, Senator Parvez Rashid told Dawn: “How can any one – even the federal government – violate environmental laws and state laws which restrict any construction or establishment on forest land (such land is called Haq Sarkar in the language of the patwaris).”
“The lease for this particular area has already expired. In addition, establishing a road on forest land is a violation and can be called illegal land grabbing. We will go to the highest court to seek justice if the issue is not resolved as we will never allow any construction on forest land,” he added.
According to some reports, the CDA has started clearing the forest area for this road.
The Punjab government has suggested to the federal government that it establish a committee comprising representatives of CDA, Revenue department (Chief Commissioner Office of Islamabad), commissioner Rawalpindi and the chief conservator of forest northern zone, Rawalpindi.
However, it is not clear if Islamabad will heed this. “Due to political reasons, the federal government is reluctant to formulate the committee,” claimed an official of the authority.
Despite multiple attempts, CDA Chairman Farkhand Iqbal did not answer his mobile phone or respond to text messages.
However, in the recent past he had told Dawn that “the road is needed since it will benefit a large number of people coming in from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.”