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Plunder at  hill stations


Imagine for a moment that you get up one morning with a deep sense of suffocation, darkness, depression and emptiness.  You find the entire neighborhood in a state of asphyxiation gasping for every breath of air.  Soon you begin to realize that a small group of rich, powerful, pampered and lawless individuals have sucked all the air and enclosed it in a huge glass dome for their exclusive consumption.  They have also installed special reflectors that  push all the sunlight into their  massive private dome, leaving the rest to deal with the gloomy darkness. The rich and the powerful  also made sure that the dome  encompassed the  densest  pine forests along with the finest smelling  flowers,  lovely  ladybirds ,  cuckoos, parrots, fire flies, beetles and butterflies.  Thus the ordinary citizens are left with almost no element of nature that  inherently belonged to all citizens.  No longer did they have the right to access and enjoy the natural scenery, hilly resorts, forests and flowers.  It was therefore natural for those outside the dome to feel  very unequal, deprived and aggrieved.   Their children will never know  a ‘jugnoo’ nor run after a butterfly.   What was meant for everyone was now grabbed, allotted, purchased,   cocooned and monopolized by a few.

But while it seemed blissful from outside, things were not as sparkling  or  serene for the spoiled rich brats who lived inside the dome.  Propelled by greed and a desire to acquire and demonstrate their wealth and power, they began to do everything that was harmful for the beautiful  natural environments they had managed to capture.   They started to build huge and ugly houses  barricaded by tall boundary walls destroying the landscape and blocking others from looking at the distant  forests and mountains.  To make it yet more exclusive,   they placed large stones to prevent people walking on the scenic natural forest trails that passed close to their homes.  In collusion with the government they began to cut the mountains to build  roads  that would exclusively lead to their personal residences.  So what started out to be an open natural territory was now an ugly  clutter of brick and mortar.

Some more obscene habits often associated with this self-indulgent class  began to surface and to  destroy the very peace and tranquility of this exclusive zone.  The rich and powerful have a strong belief that life is meaningless without plastics, pampers, Prados and violating the law of the land.  So they began to destroy the environment  by throwing and spreading polythene bags, plastic bottles, used pampers, empty plastic cups,  wrappers and  disposable dishes.  One  could no longer walk on those majestic forest trails for they were now riddled with  plastic, garbage and toxic waste.   Atrophied by obesity and lack of exercise,  these ‘pampered’  highfalutin delinquents and their accompanying urchins resort to high speed driving often in official vehicles consuming fuel  and creating  noise at  public expense.  The  very  peace and tranquility for which the exclusive zone had been created was now at the verge of a total collapse.

The above narrative, barring a few lines of  ‘poetic license’ is  not just utterly  true  but also one that snugly fits the situation at the heavenly hill resorts of Nathiagali, Doongagali and other ‘Galiyat’.  These wonderful gifts of nature  are now being systematically acquired, allotted and plundered by the ruling and the ‘wanting to rule’ elite of Pakistan.  The booty is shared  by those in power,  the ministers,    parliamentarians, bureaucrats, rich businessmen, their friends, relatives and cronies.   The KPK government has already approved the plunder of yet another hill station (Thandiani) by approving 1200 Kanals for residential and commercial purposes.  Likewise Rs.100 million have been approved for developing infrastructure to facilitate similar devastation at Malsa and Beringali hill resorts.

The massive acquisition and personalization of a common natural heritage that belongs to all citizens of Pakistan is a violation of the fundamental right of ordinary citizens of Pakistan.  It violates their right to equality and equal opportunity,   their right of access to natural resources and locations, their  right to preserve the common natural heritage and  their right to move freely at hills and forests now cocooned by the insensitive and self-centered elite of Pakistan.

Several studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that the rich and the powerful  behave more unethically  and more unlawfully than their poorer counterparts.   No one could  better exemplify  the results of these studies (carried out at University of California, Berkeley) than the parasitic lawless elite of Pakistan.   They have not just  taken over our natural heritage but also built on it hundreds of rest houses staffed and maintained by the state (at tax-payers’ expense) for the luxury of  high officials. As an example, Rs 3 million are spent only to maintain rest houses for TMA and DCO Abbotabad.     Even an organization like PESCO that is facing losses worth Rs 40 billion has no shame in grabbing a 2 kanal piece of land in Nathiagali for building a lodge that will provide luxury holidays to those actually responsible for its losses.    What we need  is a government  that will reverse these  plunders  and declare our forests and hill stations as a common heritage and shared property of all citizens of Pakistan.

Naeem Sadiq

The News  May 2012