Choking the Galiyaat: KP’s mountain resort under threat

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Snow fall in Pakistan. Photo by UPI Next/ Matiullah

 

Peshawar: A trip to the scenic northern Pakistan is not complete without a visit to the Guliyaat in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province. But it would do the place some good if you leave your car back home the next time you visit there.

Environmental activists in the province are outraged at a new PTI government plan to build parking lots in Guliyaat, already threatened by unbridled development at the cost of forests and green spaces in the mountain resort.

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrek-i-Insaf (PTI) led provincial government has invited bids to construct three multi-story parking plazas the Guliyaat  that critics say is another “ill-advised”  development project aimed at destroying the natural beauty of the resort.

The Galiyaat Development Authority (GDA) invited technical and financial proposals from national and international firms and companies for construction of the three parking plazas. Two of them will be built in Nathiagali and one in Ayubia – “to address the issue of parking for the routine visitors and tourists.”

“It is destroying natural beauty and biodiversity as the government would have to cut down thousands of trees for constructing these plazas,” said Adil Zareef, convener at the Sarhad Conservation Network that strives to protect environment.

“Galiyaat”- derived from Urdu word “Gali” meaning a passageway between mountains – is a mountainous resort in Khyber Pakthunkhwa  famous for its natural beauty and many mountain tracks that attract scores of trackers and tourists from all parts of the country. The mountain trails in Guliyaat were first discovered by British officials who would be stationed in the mountain resort during summers to escape the sweltering heat of the plains.The region is a strip of roughly 50-80 kilometer situated to the north-east of Islamabad.

Zareef said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had done little to protect the environment nor did it have environment experts to deal with environmental issues. He  complained that on one hand the  KP government  had initiated a campaign to plant a billion trees in the province and on the other they are destroying them  for construction of parking plazas that only the 10 – 20 percent of the country’s rich who owned cars would benefit from.

“I am not against development work but does cutting trees to facilitate a small percentage of the population makes sense?” said Zareef.

Zareef told News Lens on phone that the government should encourage and promote cycling or public transport to stem the flood of traffic to the mountainous north. The hills are meant for enjoyment of tourists, he said, who want to escape the crowded cities.

In November last year, much to the despair of environmentalists and nature lovers, the Galiyaat Development Agency had announced to build seven model towns in the area. The GDA Director Nazar Shah had told media that the agency had contacted several international construction companies who had completed “a master plan for the construction of seven model towns from Changla Gali to Nathiagali.”

The aim of the project, he had said, was to preserve the natural beauty of the area and attract tourists.

However, Zareef said, constructing buildings in mountain resorts  is not development but destruction of  beauty of the region.

“If the government is concerned about the car parking problems of the tourists then they should start a proper public transport system for those tourists sites,” he suggested. “Environment and biodiversity of the region should be protected at any cost.”

KP minister for Local Government and Rural Development, Inayatullah, said the plan had been initiated after taking into account the lack of parking for the visitors and tourists.

“Visitors and tourists have had severe problems of car parking so the government decided to construct the parking plazas,” he said.

When asked about the adverse impact on  environment, the minister said the government would have to seek a  “No Objection Certificate” – essentially a permission –  from the Environmental Protection Agency  and all other agencies that have a direct or indirect link with the environment.

“We will never disturb natural beauty of such tourist spots and will only go ahead with the project after a green  signal from the EPA,” Inayat told News Lens.

In November 2013, former chief justice Dost Muhammad Khan had banned allotment of plots to any housing society without the permission of the Peshawar High Court. The court decision came in the wake of reports of  increasing number of housing schemes in Galiyaat. The court asked KP Chief Minister Parvez Khattak  to form a high-level committee to prepare a master plan for the area.

In October 2014, the Peshawar High Court appointed a commission comprising Hazara Commissioner Arbab Muhammad Arif, World Wildlife Fund’s Muhammad Ibrahim, KP Environmental Protection Agency Director Muhammad Bashir, GDA DG Nazar Shah and other officials to submit a report on the status of the ‘Master Plan of Galliyaat’ – including its purpose and details of its violation if any.

The court also sought a report on whether the master plan and building regulations took into account damage to Galiyaat’s environment and abide by environmental laws.

2 COMMENTS

  1. i feel EPA should be disbanded as under the present threats to nature and biodiversity we need a panel of experts who are independent and have a committee to review projects impartially and without political considerations

    sadly EPA has a terrible record as far as EIA is concerned as it only exists for the sake of granting fake NOC that is taken without proper procedures or professional vetting of projects

    under successive political governments EPA has played the role of a silent bystander rather a rubber stamp for the most destructive and damaging projects .

    the PTI government should reconstitute EPA with experts of integrity and some authority, otherwise the fragile eco system already battered would be destroyed

    the recent cyclones and tornadoes should serve as a wake up call

    “Nature does not reward or punish…it has consequences!”

    • Mr. Zareef,

      At News Lens we feel strongly about environment. We would be reaching out to you and other activists to make environment a regular beat featuring on our website. Meanwhile, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if there’s something you feel we should look into.

      Thank you.

      News Lens Editors

      Aurangzaib.

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