A walk in the park: Reflections from the fifth and sixth visit of Journalist to National Parks in Pakistan
Margalla National Park
A group of hbs’ s environment journalists visited trails five and sixin the Margalla National Park (MNP) on 24th September 2016 just on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad. Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF) hosted the group and shared the tale of survival of Margalla National Park and current threats to the park. It was shared that MNP was declared a National Park in 1980 under Statutory Notificatio (S.R.O) 443 (1)/80. It constitutes The Margalla Hills (12,605 ha), Rawal Lake (1,902 ha) and Shakarparian (1,376 ha). The park is now threatened due to the excessive violation of environmental legislation and encroachment, primarily for tourism and local recreation.
On one side the commercial activities such as restaurants are being built in and around the park thus inviting more cars that divide the jungle into two parts. This has a grave impact on the wildlife habitat. On the other hand some villages that came under the park area were compensated against their land after the area was declared as a National Park. Villages like Saidpur were declared as a model village with a very small population. Time passed by but the residents who were compensated did not leave the premises. Moreover residents and outsiders started building houses in the disguise of the village area therefore expanding the occupied area. The illegal expansion was not noticed initially either due to corruption in the regulating authorities or because the demarcations of the area were skillfully and slyly removed. At present the boundaries are not defined and Survey of Pakistan has been consulted by CDA to demarcate the actual area of the National Park. The report is expected to be published soon. Non-stop chopping of trees for firewood and illegal selling has resulted in shrinking of the number of trees in the National Park. Grazing is not allowed in the national park however the local goat sellers in the area grazing their herds in national park. As a result the green areas and pastures are shrinking.
Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF), an independent organization took over the responsibility of maintaining and conserving the National Park in 2010 through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Capital Development Authority. They went through litigations and other process to stop various commercial and malpractices in the area however at some places they were not able to stop the violation. This includes the Saidpur village; a small old village in the park. HWF also watches tourists and also other interest groups in the area who might harm the jungle. And they have designated forest guards who try to prevent this violation.
In 2010 HWF was able to sign a MoU with CDA and are now running a government designated committee to protect the natural park. HWF suggests that to reduce pollution and disturbance in the jungle private vehicles should be discouraged by means of public transport and implementation of heavy charges for permission and parking. They also suggest that more guards need to be deployed for the protection of violation of basic norms and ethics of visiting a national park.
Mahasheer National Park
Journalists representing various media outlets visited on 25th September 2016 the group of journalists was hosted by the Gulpur Hydro power project team who shared the journey of conservation of Mahasheer National Park in Gulpur.
The story of “Mahasheer National Park” is unique and encouraging. It is unique because of the involvement of stakeholders; private sector in the protection of the National Park. The protection mechanism of the park is a result of the Gulpur hydropower plant project which was initiated in 2013. The power plant was outsourced to a Korean company; MIRA Power Ltd. Gulpur Power project is situated 167 KMs Southeast of Islamabad and is a Run-of-the-River project (a project with no or very little storage capacity) in Azad Kashmir. The installed capacity is 102 MW and estimated time for construction is 4 years starting in 2013. The initial designated place was shifted six KM away from its current location to avoid damage to the marine life. The work on the initial spot was stopped in the stage where the architects were preparing the plan.
After a year of working on the design of the project it was found out that the project had not gone through an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). It was declared to have a detrimental and irreversible impact on the ecology of Poonch River. The River is famous for Mahasheer and Kashmiri cat fish. These precious fish species were already threatened due to heavy sale and catching practices such as plastic nets, dynamites and electric shocks that killed the juveniles. This was violation of the wildlife legislation and the national park laws.
In order to ensure safety of water life the Mira power company (Ltd) and AJK government signed an agreement on Feb 22, 2016. They agreed to implement a Bio Diversity Action Plan (BAP). According to the plan they wanted to enhance the river basin level protection. The wildlife department of AJK approved the project on the condition that all future projects will have to prove net gain in biodiversity in the national park. The project should ensure a strategy that would guarantee that the environment would not face mass destruction. The strategy is as follows:
- Environmental management must focus on both flow related pressures created by dams, and non-flow pressures created by people
- The consumers of electricity must pay for management of these pressures, whether in the form of higher tariffs due to higher releases for environment, non-peaking operations, or management of non-flow pressures
- The electricity regulator should allow for these costs in capex and opex of the tariff
- Implementation will be managed by the owner through contracts with third parties
- A Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) will be prepared to define actions required, roles and responsibilities, and M&E mechanisms
- The owner will enter into an agreement with government to implement the BMP, the provision for which will be made in the Implementation Agreement for the power project
Mira Power Ltd chose Himalayan Wildlife Foundation (HWF) as implementing partner and designated them for the protection of the national park on April 6, 2016. HWF under this agreement is responsible for supporting the AJK Fisheries and Wildlife Department. Efforts of AJK and MLA and HWF have successfully improved the situation against the baseline conducted in the beginning of the project. The number of fish has increased.
Logistic support for patrolling is being provided on the Poonch River since October 2014. The patrolling team makes sure that the laws for fishing are abided by the people living along the river. Those coming with the intention of fishing have to take permission and use only rod for fishing. Nets and other like equipments are no longer allowed for fishing in the Poonch River.
Gulpur stands as a role model for future and also current Run-of-the-river hydro projects.