February 3rd, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
A panel of climate change experts and officials from the district administration, disaster management, tourism, and environmental protection departments are to draft suggestions for legislation to protect the ecosystem of the Murree Hills, according to an order of the Lahore High Court.
On January 31, Justice Jawad Hasan of the Rawalpindi bench directed the Rawalpindi commissioner to form a committee to draft a law on the preservation, conservation, and protection of Murree hills. The court was hearing a petition regarding razing of hills in Murree as well as its surrounding areas, including Kahuta and Kotli Sattian.
No law to protect Murree Hills: LHC
In its directions, the court observed that there “is no specific legislation to protect the Murree hills from being destroyed at both the Federal and the Provincial level with regard to (i) run/control all affairs regarding the mountain delimitation, mountain institutions, mountain development (economic and social development), mountain protection; and (ii) to regulate all those affairs so that the mountain ecosystem of Pakistan may be preserved”.
According to the LHC order, the meeting will be co-chaired by independent climate experts Ali Touqeer Sheikh and Hammad Naqi Khan, director-general of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
“First meeting of the committee will be held on 8th of February, 2022 at 11:00 a.m.in the office of Commissioner and all the members will make sincere efforts/suggestions to draft the law on preservation, conservation and protection of the Murree hills to be called “the Murree Hills Eco-System (Preservation, Conservation, and Protection) Act, 2022,” the order read.
‘No highrise buildings can be built in Murree’
Ali Tauqeer Sheikh told the court that the core issue related to the destruction of the mountain ecosystem of Murree. The hill station was on porous land, hence, no high-rise building could be allowed because it was not a rocky landscape, he said, adding that there were examples in the world of preserving the mountain ecosystem of such areas. Sheikh suggested that if a specific law/legislation was enacted Murree could be turned into a climate-smart city.
‘Govt doing nothing to protect ecosystem’
Barrister Sardar Taimoor Aslam Khan, counsel for the petitioner, referred to various judgments of apex courts on the protection of mountains in the country. He informed the court that the government was making no efforts for the protection of the mountain ecosystem, adding that a government notification issued in 2009 did not serve the purpose.
The court order also cited paragraphs from Professor Dr Farakh A Khan’s book titled Murree During the Raj, a British Town in the Hills, to highlight unbridled commercialization and its negative fallout on the hill station in recent years.
‘Model for hill stations’
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh said the court directions for special legislation could lay foundations of a regulatory framework for the development of other hill stations from Murree to Khunjrab Pass.
In his opinion, the Walled City of Lahore Authority could be a workable model for the preservation of Murree Hills. In his view, the proposed legislation on the mountain ecosystem should have provisions for adjusting to extreme weather events caused by climate change.
“The law should be future-oriented to cope with Murree’s growth in the next three to four decades,” he said. Besides, the authorities should be able to make hill stations accessible to people all year-round.
“The proposed legislation should ensure that development should be in sync with the environment instead of destroying it,” he added.
‘Existing laws on protected areas not implemented’
According to Hammad Naqi Khan, the main issue was a lack of demarcation and delimitation of protected areas in the Murree Hills and adjoining areas. Unplanned development and encroachments have scarred the natural scenic beauty of the area, he added.
“Murree can be cited as a classic case of how a fragile ecosystem can be destroyed in name of ecotourism,” Khan told Voicepk.net.
In his view, the environmental damage to Murree Hills could have been avoided if the government officials and departments had implemented existing laws in regard to protected areas.
The LHC directed that a first draft of the proposed law along with the outcome of the committee’s meeting should be submitted to the court on the next date of hearing on February 10.