Mining mafia threaten Islamabad’s magnificent Margalla Hills

By Sameet Shahid

Man versus Mountain: Beautiful Margalla mountains are being crushed away one rock at a time

Travelling by road between Islamabad and Peshawar, near Taxila/Wah, within the beautiful range of Margalla Hills, one cannot overlook a mechanical beast invariably crushing and crumbling the gorgeous landscape. These beasts, indubitably, are the Crushing Machines!

The hills’ rock formations of Margalla Hills are 40 million years old and composed of rich minerals and huge traces of the limestone. And for more than 40 years, the crushing machines have been splintering the natural sedimentary rocks – digging, drilling and crushing the beauteous limestone hills into pebbles that yield in cement manufacturing. Since the limestone of Margalla hills is considered the highest quality and most suitable for mixing in concrete. Massive quantity has already been used in building motorway and airstrip of Gwadar. One can imagine the cost we are paying for the modern infrastructure.

Contiguous to Islamabad, a fragment of the Margalla hills extended over 31,142 acres have been declared part of the Margalla Hills National Park under the wildlife ordinance 1979. Any commercial or residential activity is strictly prohibited in the region and as per Islamabad Wildlife Ordinance, not only mining but digging is also banned within the terrain of National Park.

However, despite the court orders, a cement factory was established in 1990, and alongside, the crushing activity carried out daily by leaps and bounds. Approximately more than 350 stone crushing plants are settled up and functioning in the west of Islamabad, 30 km at Grand Trunk road.

The beautiful hills are blasted through dynamite and crushed through beastly machines. According to an estimate 3 machines installed at every plant and each machine requires 35 to 40 laborers for operations.

Roughly 4000 tones of limestone is being crushed out daily and more than six kilometers of the beautiful landscape has been turned into a barren site because of the monopoly of crushers, manufacturers and real estate operatives.

Research that has been conducted by national organizations, such as Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and Punjab EPA, since 2010 reveals that peculiar exhalations from crushing of Margalla Hills are 40 times further than the pre-set environment quality standards.

Besides humans, the whole crushing phenomenon is also devastating for the natural habitat for 38 species (mammals) and over 600 plant species in the Margalla Hills National Park. Mostly the stone crushing is being carried out in tehsil Taxila, the western side of National Park.

Furthermore, the development of different housing societies and commercial establishments has deteriorated the situation, resulting in deforestation, and mutilation of the natural ecosystem and biodiversity of the region.

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The objective of the declaration of the Margalla Hills as a National Park was to sustain the flora and fauna as well as the establishment of a recreational spot for the people. But the efforts of the authorities have been contrary. They are not paying attention to the environmental cost of stone crushing and commercial proposition. Environment protection group activists state that this devastating phenomenon first started with the establishment of the cement factor in the region.

Keeping in view the national demand, preservation of Margalla National Park and employment of the laborers, the authorities should acknowledge their responsibilities and divert the crushing activities to the Koh-e-Suleman region which is said to be the richest in the limestone. This solution can offer a win-win situation for all the concerned industries and authorities while ensuring sustained ambiance.

Meanwhile, Margalla Hills National Park should be declared a natural sanctuary, a protected area, with a strict ban on economic activities and building construction to inspire people to cherish our natural heritage for a sustainable future.

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