The popular Monal restaurant located in Marghalla Hills, which now pays rent to the military for occupying its land, has been sealed by the Islamabad Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Islamabad Chief Commissioner’s Office over illegal tree cutting for expansive construction activities.
Climate Change Ministry Media Focal Person Muhammad Saleem told reporters that the action was taken after the restaurant’s illegal activities, which were initiated by its management a few days ago, were brought to PM’s Adviser Malik Amin Aslam’s notice.
“Taking serious notice of the illegal activities, Malik Amin directed EPA to take legal action against the culprits,” he told the media, adding that besides sealing off the property, an FIR had also been lodged against the offenders at the Islamabad Secretariat Police Station.
Regretting the significant loss of tree cover and land degradation in the restaurant’s vicinity, the Climate Change Ministry’s focal person said that he was thankful to citizens for sharing pictures of the land levelled area achieved after the massive cutting of trees on social media until it went viral.
“Resultantly, the district administration conducted a raid on Tuesday evening and it was observed that images of destruction activities which had appeared in social media were authentic. During the raid, two persons namely Muhammad Sagheer and Muhammad Naeem were arrested on the spot whereas an FIR, NO 224/20, has been lodged in Police Station Kohsar, F/7,” he added.
Further, Malik Amin, along with the Climate Change Ministry’s higher authorities will visit the damaged site on Wednesday and take stock of the damage Monal restaurant has caused to the land and trees.
The ministry’s media focal person also said that tree plantation activities will be carried out by him in support with the local forest officials to rehabilitate the damaged land.
It may be mentioned here that a case regarding stone crushing and other activities in Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) was also brought before the Supreme Court (SC) wherein it was decided that all construction activities, private and commercial, would be ordered to immediately halt operations. However, a copy of the order is yet to be issued.
ARMY STARTS GETTING RENT FROM MONAL:
Amid the silence of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) over Pakistan Army’s land ownership claim at Margalla Hills, Monal in January started paying a monthly rent to Remount Veterinary & Farms Directorate (RV&F) General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi.
According to a local news outlet, the leaseholder of Monal Restaurant has paid Rs484,008 as arrears of rental payment for September, Rs1,300,000 as rental of November, and Rs910,000 as rental of December 2019 to the RV&F GHQ.
The building in which the restaurant is operating was constructed by the CDA and leased to Luqman Ali Afzal in 2006. It is now an iconic eatery of the federal capital.
The city managers, while establishing this amenity by expending huge amount from public exchequer, never thought that the subject land does not belong to CDA as it was enjoying its sole ownership and absolute possession since 1961.
However, tables turned around in 2016, when the army came forward with the claim that the said land was once allotted to Military Farms Rawalpindi in 1910 by then government of Punjab for the production of hay for army animals.
To settle the over a century-old claim of the ownership of 8,603 acres of military land in the area, a meeting was held on November 8, 2016, under the chair of then defence minister.
According to GHQ’s letters, it was decided in the said meeting to revert back the subject land to the owner, RV&F, after a joint survey by the ministry and CDA.
Later, a survey was conducted on the request of the RV&F directorate to demarcate the military grassland at Margalla Hills, following which the demarcation was started in February 2017 and completed in May 2017. In it, a total of 8655.62 acres of land was demarcated as military grassland.
In the light of said demarcation, the RV&F directorate conveyed the leaseholder of Monal that his building came inside 8655.62 acres land and he was asked to provide lease documents in addition to the payment of arrears and monthly rents to RV&F directorate instead of CDA.
MONAL BUILT ON ARMY’S LAND:
In November, a CDA official had told a parliamentary committee that the capital’s famous Monal Restaurant was built on military land and the army wanted it back.
According to another local news outlet, Dr Shahid Mahmood had told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Climate Change that 15 years ago, the CDA “did not know it was building the restaurant on military grasslands until the army started claiming it”.
The committee was told that the 22,000 acres of land — that are now a part of the Margalla Hills National Park — were actually owned by the Punjab government.
Around 5,500 acres of the said land was allocated to the army, he said, although the exact year the allocation was made, was not stated. The CDA now owns 16,500 acres.
The latest survey conducted by the authority revealed that the land allotted to the army is right in the centre of the national park, and Monal has been built on it.