Plantation of broad-leaf trees on Margalla Hills recommended to avoid fires | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Plantation of broad-leaf trees on Margalla Hills recommended to avoid fires

Pakistan Press Foundation

A set of recommendations furnished before the Supreme Court by Advocate Hafiz Ahsaan Ahmad Khokhar on the fires also suggested directions to the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI), Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Wildlife Management Board (WMB) to launch a campaign in coordination with the civil society for the preservation and cleanliness of the national park area.

The apex court had ordered constitution of the committee under Federal Ombudsman Syed Tahir Shahbaz and comprising Additional Attorney General Nayyar Abbas Rizvi and others to identify legal, administrative, financial and operational issues and to suggest a way forward along with an independent oversight mechanism to preserve national heritage and avoid fire incidents at Margalla Hills along with a coordination mechanism for all the relevant departments.

The Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP), which was declared a protected area in 1980, stretches from Nicholson Monument in the west to 17 km in the east of Islamabad and north side of Murree Road, including Shakarparian and the area within two km from the highest watermark of Rawal Lake.

The fire season in MHNP starts on April 15 and continues for three months till the onset of the monsoon rains.

According to the MCI, pickets were established throughout the MHNP with 10 to 15 people per picket but they were not properly manned. Moreover, there is no proper standard operating procedure (SOP) for prevention of a fire which was usually extinguished through beating or creating a break by removing thick vegetation from around the affected piece of the forest.

There is also no mechanism for proper training of the staff and the MCI/CDA do not have modern firefighting equipment and machinery.

The committee recommended that the cabinet division, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the army and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) should also be ordered by the court to keep a close liaison with the environment directorate of the MCI to provide support of helicopters as and when needed for the forest fire control.

For severe fires, aerial water spray through fixed wing fire bombers or helicopters is an indispensable instrument. A rapid aerial deployment can also avert the chance of a fire to develop into a major conflagration.

An operational framework be developed in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence, army and PAF. This initiative would lay down the procedure for quick requisitioning of air support.

Moreover, the MCI, CDA and NDMA should work together to develop SOPs to deal with the forest fires. Besides, the chairman MCI should be responsible for oversight and coordination in respect of the implementation plan.

They would also submit their plan for fire control to the federal ombudsman secretariat every year before the summer season sets in, the recommendations said.

It asked the MCI to ensure that sufficient staff is present at pickets who should also be well equipped to control fires. These arrangements may be completed within 30 days.

The recommendations also asked for launching public awareness campaigns by the MCI and CDA for preservation of the hills and tree plantation.

A toll free telephone line by the MCI should also be established for reporting of the outbreak of fires by the citizens. Moreover, every forest guard should submit a daily fire report to the MCI directorate.

A periodic survey of human settlements in the forest land should also be carried out to ensure that in case of any encroachment or expansion the defaulter is taken to task.

Focal points and officers should be designated in the MCI, CDA and the WMB for the forest fire and encroachment prevention.