Killing off the serenity
ISLAMABAD: It’s about to rain yet again in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Murree and the catchment areas of the Rawal lake. Clouds are hovering over the region and the breeze has brought the temperature down by several degrees as the sun’s rays remain blocked by the overcast conditions. The shrubs on the hillocks encircling the lake look far greener.
This monsoon resembles the period some two decades ago when during this season, the rain and the sun used to play hide and seek for days on end in the twin cities, on the Margalla and the Murree hills. Recent years have seen the rains interspersed over the days, but this year, the downpours are more regular. The water level in the Rawal lake, which had receded alarmingly a few days ago, is expected to rise shortly as the flow in the tributaries running down from the hills has already started increasing.
Yet at the moment, the banks of the dam are still dry and one can walk from the southeast end to deep inside the reservoir to a point that in normal days would be under water. On the banks, indeed, far beyond them, the water has become stagnant. The intolerable stench forces the picnicker to give up, it having entirely permeated the wet earth.
The foul smell is that of dead fish, killed by the chemicals which contaminate the waters of the lake, mixed with the waste of residential settlements upstream. The trash and garbage left by the visitors to the area have further ruined the waters. The trash that I can identify includes diapers, food scraps, empty bottles, packs of pasteurised milk and even shoes.
Back in early ’90s, this area was so beautiful that the rich and influential of the times, led by our ‘N-Hero’ Dr A. Q. Khan, started building sprawling villas and farmhouses along the banks of the of the Rawal lake so that they could bask in the glory of nature through the year.
Back then, when the monsoon rains were still conventional and the hillocks around the Rawal lake were still very lush, Imran Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, was also enchanted by the beauty of this area. He bought land at the top of one of these hills and built his farmhouse overlooking the lake. No doubt he had planned to spend rest of his life there in peace with his then wife Jemima Khan.
He did not know that times would change. So did the area of Banigala, which did not remain the sole preserve of the wealthy for too long. People started constructing small-sized houses and the density of population continued to increase unendingly. There is no sewerage system in the area and the owners of these settlements built septic tanks to deal with the issue of sanitation. Soon, this turned into a huge nuisance for the area. The first, privileged, residents of Banigala did not know that the serenity of the surrounding hillocks, the forest and the lake, would be destroyed by thousands of people who followed in their footsteps.
Today, what was formerly an area of peace, serenity and beauty has become a concrete jungle and all the waste of the encroachments is seeping or openly flowing into the waters of Rawal lake. There is so much contamination that it has started causing the death of aquatic species and wildlife, and brought disease for human beings.
Mr Khan has now pleaded before the Supreme Court that illegal construction and encroachments in the area be halted. This seems to be an initiative that probably came too late as the environment of the area has already been destroyed by commercial and residential structures. Government officials believe that at least 14,000 fish died just last week in Rawal lake after its water reached an unprecedented level of contamination following an inflow of rainwater that brought waste into the reservoir from Banigala and other adjacent areas.
But the Capital Development Authority, which regulates construction in the Islamabad Capital Territory — instead of removing illegal structures and the harmful waste from the catchment areas — has provided the Supreme Court with the response that Khan’s own house was a violation of construction rules. No step has been taken to improve the environment and a spokesman of the authority has stated that: “What happened in the past is a closed chapter.” This would imply that citizens will have to live with the polluted environment.
We are, after all, living in an era where buildings and properties matter more than serenity, the environment, water or the monsoons. Perhaps we should concede that we are affected by climate change, and not by the vested interests and criminal negligence of indifferent human beings.