ISLAMABAD, Aug 15: Explosions announced the sunset around Wah on Sunday evening. The booms sent birds fluttering and visitors along a roadside restaurant on G.T. Road wondered what had happened.
?Every dawn and every sunset sounds like this. Stone crushers use dynamites to cut deeper into the hills,? said a restaurant owner accustomed to uncontrolled and illegal blasting in the Margalla Hills. ?Something seems missing if we don?t hear it throughout the day.? Indiscriminate blasting that continuously damages environment of the Margalla Hills leaves a cloud of dust that the people in Wah and nearby areas breathe.
The officials of the Mines and Minerals Department argue the limestone dust from quarrying was too heavy for the winds to carry as far as the twin cities but did not rule out health hazards for nearby settlements.
Starting from the bend under the Nicholson Monument on G.T. Road and continuing as far as discernable in the hazy atmosphere to the left and the right is this disturbing trade of illegal quarrying that has drawn criticism from environmentalists and government alike. Yet this criminal activity continues under the noses of the environment ministry, Pakistan Environment Protection Agency, ICT and the Punjab government.
?The fact that the government declared Margalla Hills a National Park means we are concerned about the ecology,? said a dejected environmentalist and author, Fauzia Minallah. ?It?s a very sad situation for the ministry, Pak-EPA, CDA and ICT that nobody takes them seriously,? said Ms Minallah.
However, the Pak-EPA recently said on recommendations from the environment ministry, the chief minister Punjab had directed the mines department to stop operation of all illegal quarries.
Director-General Pak-EPA Asif S Khan said,?A coordinated action will soon be taken by ICT and the Punjab government to stop illegal quarrying to protect Margalla Hills from further degradation.The Punjab government has also been requested to plan rehabilitation of the area.? Minister for Enviornment Hameedullah Jan Afridi, who had directed Pak-EPA to provide maximum support to ICT and the Punjab government in stopping illegal operation of stone crushers, said he ?never? described them ?untouchables? and believed in the writ of the government.
Deputy Commissioner ICT Amir Ali assured maximum support to Pak-EPA. ?But Pak-EPA must take action. Pak-EPA, ICT industry laws and CDA laws prohibit illegal quarry ing. Stone crushers need to be served with notices,? he said.
According to Pak-EPA, out of 61 leases, 50 were expired and no further extensions were awarded by ICT or the Punjab government.
According to a social worker from the area, Jawadullaha Khan Abbasi, the destruction of the hills has caused severe health problems in the area, such as hepatitis, TB and skin infections. The residents of the area also face other issues such as noise pollution caused by dynamite explosions, heavy machinery and about 80 trucks crossing Ghora Gali Lora Road in district Abbottabad daily.
Moreover, stone crushing has led to the drying up and contamination of natural streams, the destruction of natural geographical formations, archaeological features and native plant communities. It has also forced native birds to migrate from the area, says Abid Swati, an environment expert in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
?A team from the Enviro-nment Protection Agency (EPA) visited the site about five months ago and the federal government directed the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to stop stone crushing in Abbottabad Hills immediately. However, the practice needs to be checked again,? says director-general EPA Asif Shuja.
?Stone crushing is a never ending story,? says Shuja. ?Stone crushers continue to work despite the fact that their licences have expired.? There are about 213 stone crushers working close to the ruins of Taxila who were given leases in the 1980s. The EPA has asked the provincial government not to issue new licences or give out new leases. The case of stone crushing in Taxila has been moved to the Punjab Tribunal of the EPA and is still pending.
In 1995-1996, crushers were stopped from operating in the national park area which comprises Pirsohawa, Daman-e-Koh and Shakarpariyan. Thirty crushers operating in Taxila were also shut down. However, two illegal crushers are still operating there.
And in 2006, the EPA declared 1000 yards from Margalla Hills a no-crushing zone. In 2006-2007, the Punjab government gave a three-year lease to the Margalla Hills Association for the rehabilitation of the area, but crushing continued. Many of the crushers are working despite the expiration of their leases.
Meanwhile, the Punjab?s Mines and Minerals Depart-ment sent a summary to the chief minister to carry out crushing the no-crushing zone, but the proposal was refused.
?It is commonly said that Islamabad has been constructed with the stones of Margalla Hills,? says Shuja. ?Approximately 40,000 tons of stone per day is taken from Margalla and is moved all the way to Sindh. If the trend continues, soon we will not see any more hills but only concrete blocks in the capital.?