ISLAMABAD, Dec 27: An average resident of Islamabad is expected to wait between 12 and 18 months before he gets a functional gas connection.
Residents of Kalinjer and Gandhian villages though for unclear reasons were given special treatment this summer as they got new gas connections in a record time of three months – much faster than most legal residents could ever imagine.
It is pertinent to mention that Kalinjer and Gandhian villages are located inside the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) territory and not even recognised as regular settlements.
There are 400 households in the two villages, which sit on the foot of Margalla Hills and are a few hundred metres apart.
For several decades, villagers strolled inside the national park and collected wood by cutting trees.
That’s just how Chaudhry Waheed’s family in Kalinjer had cooked food and kept warm for the last four generations.
While speaking to Dawn, Chaudhry Waheed, a milkman by profession, pointed to the hills a stone’s throw away from his house where his brother and he had collected till two months ago.
He was joined by Imran Khan, another Kalinjer resident and a student of first year, who proudly exclaimed: “Now we have everything.”
According to Mazhar Hussain, former member environment wing CDA, the civic authority should have adopted proper measures to ensure provision of basic amenities to the two villages in question theoretically.
“None of the unrecognised settlements including the Christian colonies in the city have gas,” seconded Muhammad Vaqar, director Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF), which looks over conservation efforts in collaboration with CDA in 13 valleys in the MHNP.
Mr Vaqar explained that it was illegal to provide gas or electricity to settlements where residents did not own lands or houses and did not pay taxes, especially those situated in the protected park areas.
“We are not against providing gas to such settlements. But it should be done properly so that residents follow rules and further encroachments are controlled. By providing gas and electricity to the Kalinjer and Gandhian villages, the authorities have officially recognised encroachments in protected areas,” Mr Vaqar added.
When Dawn tried to probe the issue further, no one in CDA or Sui Northern Gas Pipelines office in Islamabad could provide a satisfactory explanation of why just these two villages out of the 31 villages spread out in the national park territory across the foot of the Margalla Hills had been provided gas. (Twenty-six of these villages had been acquired by the civic authority in the late 1970s and early 1980s.)
Officials in CDA feigned complete ignorance over the matter.
Iftikhar Awan, deputy director-general environment wing, CDA, was surprised to learn that the villages had been provided gas.
“This is a highly irregular activity in the national park area. We will call our directors for a report on this development. We will also write to Sui Gas for explanation behind the illegal service,” claimed Mr Awan, who manages the park territory.Dr Sheikh Suleman, director-general environment wing CDA, was equally surprised to learn gas had been provided to unrecognised settlements.
However, officials at SNGPL were completely aware of the developments but no one was eager to take responsibility for giving the go-ahead.
Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry, general manager projects, SNGPL, passed the buck to his counterpart in Lahore.
On the other hand, the office of Zia Mehmmod, general manager operations, SNGPL, put the blame back on Mr Chaudhry.
Mr Mehmood was seconded by Qazi Nasir, deputy chief engineer, Sui Gas, who had started the project of laying the gas pipelines in the protected area in the summers of the 2012 and had finished the job on priority basis.
“The orders to keep this project on top priority came from the GM’s office,” said Mr Nasir, who turned on the gas supply three months ago.