The nation’s new capital, Islamabad, was conceived to be a serene, staid township tucked away from the humdrum of Karachi. And thanks to its chief architect Doxiadis Associates’ flight of imagination and sense of history it happened to be so in its early years. With the brooding Margallas serving as the backdrop the streams flowing through the city were crystal clear, markets uncluttered and artistically brick-lined footpaths beckoning the jay-walkers. This form and flavor of the new city was expected to endure but only by hermetically sticking to its master plan that had spelt out in considerable detail its physical, social, environmental and economic future. But that was not to be, given the Capital Development Authority’s excessive tinkering with the master plan – sometimes under pressure from above but more often to serve its own vested interest. Cities are built for ages but sixty years on, which isn’t long enough in the life of a city, Islamabad is not what it was conceived and built to be. Excessive tinkering with the master plan by the Capital Development Authority it lost its form and flavour. The virginity of the Margallas stands violated by a string of eateries; its parks have been allowed to fester and green spots are rented out. Pay a visit to the expensively developed F-9 Park and see how atrociously it has been neglected. Come to the upscale Blue Area and witness how perennially missing from the scene has been the CDA’s anti-encroachment force. Or get lost in the labyrinths of Peshawar Morr where work on the multi-billion interchange is still far from finished. But the CDA is not ready to look back; it must move on and make more money even if it requires selling greenbelts and allowing added stories to commercial plazas. Resultantly, the capital city is not only overcrowded, overbuilt and over-encroached, it also stinks.
How recklessly Islamabad master plan has been violated, and so early in the life of the capital city, it comes out, rather boldly, in a report, prepared by a high-powered environmental commission, submitted to the Islamabad High Court. Some of the deep scars on the fair body of the capital city include restaurants at Daman-e-Koh and Pir Sohawa, new Parade Ground along the Islamabad Highway, marriage halls and hotels along the Murree Road, housing societies in close proximity of Rawal Lake and a cement plant in the foothills of the Margallas. What distresses the commission most is the CDA’s violation of the Margallas Hills National Park that is designated as a wildlife sanctuary, but is under threat of creeping incursions in the form of housing societies and restaurants. Not that cities do not undergo changes, but these should happen over an extend span of time if that becomes unavoidable. “But the CDA has so far made a number of major changes in the city’s master plan arbitrarily,” says commission in its report. The problem in implementation is not because of paucity of suitable law to enforce implementation of master plan. The commission is of the view that the existing rules and regulations are good enough to protect the capital’s environment and thus obviate the need for additional legislation. The problem is with CDA’s inability to implement these laws. And should a change in the master plan become inevitable instead of CDA it should fall in the jurisdiction of Islamabad Planning and Advisory Board. However, under sharper focus of the commission comes the sanctity of the Margallas – that act as the lungs of dwellers of the capital city. The commission wants it to be left in its pristine natural condition and the Zone III completely clear of any construction, if possible by having a 5-Km buffer zone around it. We believe the commission’s recommendations to secure the capital city’s environment are very much timely and need to be implemented without any loss of time. But will it happen? We have doubts given the accepted fate of such exercises at the hands of government, all the more for the reason that the capital is going to get its elected city fathers anytime soon.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2015