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Supreme Court criticises KP for failing to check illegal quarrying

By Nasir Iqbal 2016-06-15
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its dismay over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa`s failure to check illegal quarrying and mountain blasting around the Margalla Hills even though lease agreements with some stone crushers expired five years ago.

Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali expressed surprise while heading a three-judge bench, asking how a mining lease could remain intact and allow stone crushers to continue quarrying when it expired in March 2011.

The bench took suo motu action on a case related to continued quarrying and cutting of trees in the Margalla Hills area.

The attention of the court was drawn towards the seriousness of the matter through a May 19 discussion on a television show on a private channel, during which the host highlighted continued quarrying in the hills by an influential mafia as well as cement factories.

During the talk show, a report wasaired in which a reporter visited the Lora union council in the Abbottabad district, and discovered that illegal crushing had continued unabated in the hilly areas for 35 years, without any checks, and had damaged the greenery in the hills.

On Tuesday, the secretary of the KP Minerals Development Department argued that, under the 2005 concession rules and the 1923 mines act, unless the mining committee meets to cancel the contract, the lease agreement would remain valid regardless of whether it had expired or not.

The chief justice then wondered whether, if the mining committee failed to meet for an extended period of time, quarrying would continue.

He also asked why the mining secretary should not be suspended.

However, KP Additional Advocate General Arshad Khan told the court that the KP government was planning to bring new legislation to replace the old law, which was full of shortcomings and lacunae.

Mr Khan also drew the court`s attention towards the fact that the government failed to cancel the min-ing leases granted by previous government because several lessees approved the Peshawar High Court, and succeeded in obtaining a status quo against government orders.

At this, the chief justice regretted that courts were involved in many games, and cited the example of Karachi, where many illegal plazas have sprungup because ofthe status quo granted by the courts.

The court said whenever the authorities attempted to act; the owners of the illegal buildings produced the court orders and never stopped construction.

The chief justice also regretted that lawmakers, while crafting the mining law, must not have conceived that their law could be abused in such a way that a mining licence would not be cancelled for ages, despite their expiry.

`We are not against lawful business, which is a fundamental right of every citizen, but the illegal activities of quarrying should be ceased with immediately, especially when the Supreme Court has already declared quarrying, mining and blasting of the Margalla Hills illegal in 2013,` the chief justice observed.

Meanwhile in its report, the MDD secretary conceded that three mining concessions were given for limestone, over an area of 52.744 acres near the Bashkoli village in Lora, to Raja Khalil Ahmed of the Ghora Gali village in the Rawalpindi district which was valid up to Aug 29, 2015.

Approaching expiry, the lessee has applied for renewal, as per the provisions of the Mining Concessions Rules 2005.

In addition, 51.823 acres in the same area was leased to Eitsham Ahmad of the Koti Budnal village, and 28 acres to Walayat Khan in the Liran village, Lora.

The department has instructed the lessees to undertake mining activities in accordance with the provisions laid down in the law.

The KP Mines chief inspector has also directed the Abbottabad Mines inspector to stop indiscriminate and dangerous blasting.

However, the report clarified that all the granted areas for limestone fall outside the reserve forest area.

No mining concession can be granted in the reserve forest area until a No-Objection Certificate is issued by the environment department.

The report also suggested that the court order the constitution of a committee consisting of officials the environment and industries departments and the MDD visit the area and submit recommendations under the law to resolve the matter, or the court should order the cancellation of the lease, with which the department will comply.

On Tuesday, Aitzaz Ahsan also appeared to represent rock crushers operating in Lora, and said the court needed to regulate quarrying as these areas were the only source of limestone for cement.

He assured the court that his clients were working outside the protected boundaries of the Margalla Hills.

The court dispensed with the appearance of the KP chief secretary, who was busy with budget preparations, and ordered Islamabad Capital Territory and Punjab to submit comprehensive reports.

A notice to Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf was also issued to assist the court.

The next hearing will be on June 22.