Islamabad-Federal Ombudsman in its report to the Supreme Court has recommended directions to Pakistan Army, Pakistan Air Force and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to keep close liaison with Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad to stop incidents of fire in Margalla Hills. It is further recommended to direct the above said authorities for provision of full support of Helicopters as and when needed for forest fire control. The committee headed by Federal Ombudsman Syed Tahir Shahbaz constituted for the purpose of ending unprecedented fire eruption also observed that there was no proper Standard Operating Procedure for the prevention of fire but it was being extinguished through beating or creating a break by removing thick vegetation from around the affected piece of forest; or through counter fire efforts.

“Moreover, there is no mechanism for proper training of staff and Metropolitan Corporation and Capital Development Authority (CDA) do not have modern equipment and machinery for fire fighting,” the report stated. The top court in June had constituted a six-member committee headed by Federal Ombudsman Syed Tahir Shahbaz and directed to submit recommendations to prevent unprecedented fire in Margalla Hills. Advocate Hafiz Ahsan Khokhar on behalf of Federal Ombudsman submitted a 50-page report in the matter regarding incidents of fire eruption at Margalla Hills Islamabad. Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP) was declared as a protected area in 1980. It stretches from Nicholson Monument in West to 17 kilometres in the east of Islamabad and north side of Murree Road including Shakarparian and area within 2 kilometres from the highest water mark of Rawal Lake. 

The wild fire season in Margalla Hills National Park starts in April and continues for three months till the onset of Monsoon rains. 

According to Metropolitan Corporation, pickets are established throughout the MHNP with 10 to 15 persons per picket but they are not properly manned. 

The committee proposed 27 recommendations to prevent the fire at Margalla Hills. It is recommended that IMC, CDA, NDMA should work together to develop SOPs to deal with incidents of fire at Margalla Hills. It is recommended that Chairman MCI Islamabad should be responsible for oversight and coordination in respect of implementation plan as agreed to by MCI and Wildlife Management Board who should also be responsible for submission of quarterly reports on implementation. 

MCI should ensure that their sufficient staff is present at pickets and is well equipped to control fire incidents at Margalla Hills, it recommended.

The report stated that MCI, CDA and Wildlife Management Board should start a campaign for tree plantation. It added that Ministry of CADD should allocate the requisite funds to relevant departments for prevention and control of incidents of fire at Margalla Hills in the future. “Pending cases of staff in NIRC appointed for pickets at Margalla Hills should be pursued well and stay orders to be vacated.” The report recommended establishment of toll free lines by MCI for reporting the outbreak of fires by the public and each forest guard should be bound to submit daily fire report to the Directorate of MCI. “Periodic Survey of human settlements on forest land is carried out to ensure that in case of any encroachment or expansion, the defaulter is taken to task. Plantation of broad leave plants to replace pine trees, which are most vulnerable to fire.” It further maintained that Wildlife Management Board should actively perform its functions for preservation of Margalla Hills and its Biomass (wild life) as per their prescribed mandate under the Ordinance of 1979 and 1983 Rules. 

“Focal Points and Officers may be designated in MCI, CDA and Wildlife Management Board for forest fire prevention and encroachments in Margalla Hills. Every fire incident must be reported by MCI and Wildlife Management Board. Criminal action should be taken against all the responsible officials in case of fire.” The Federal Ombudsman’s report stated that special equipment should also be purchased by MCI to control the fire and to ensure that guards were regularly posted at pickets. “If there is need to increase the pickets, measures are to taken in this regard and report be submitted on regular basis to Federal Ombudsman Secretariat. EPA, Islamabad may also be associated in this exercise of preservation of National Heritage and environment at Margalla Hills,” the report recommended.

It further added that all encroachments noticed and pointed out by the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board should be dealt with strictly under law without fear or favour by relevant departments. “An analysis of the previous fire incidents should be carried out by the Wildlife Management Board & MCI to identify their shortcomings; and corrective steps be taken by them accordingly.” The report further recommended the clear demarcation of boundary wall of MHNP.  “For severe fires, aerial water spray, through fixed wing fire bombers or helicopters, is an indispensable instrument of fire fighting. Rapid aerial deployment can avert the chance of fire to develop into a major conflagration.”  “A total re-assessment of the existing positions of pickets needs to be carried out by MCI. As a result of such assessment, relocation and / or resource bolstering of pickets may be done in order to optimize their utility.”

It further stated that allegedly most of the fires are ignited by mischief mongers. “Therefore, in order to eradicate such etiological factors, use of surveillance cameras and intelligence gathering endeavours may be added to the existing tools of fire management,” the report stated.  Pickets must be provided with essential fire fighting equipment such as Fire Rake, Fire Beater, Helmets, Gas Mask, Axe, Saw, Sickle, Shovel, Bucket, Water Bottles, Fire Resisting Dress, Binocular and First Aid Box etc, it stated. One Android Mobile Phone each may also be provided to the pickets for enhancing communication and to take photographs of the mischief mongers, it next stated. The report further stated that local communities should be involved through village or community Councils. “Continuing engagement with local communities would achieve such levels of sensitization that is necessary for making them useful partners in fighting fires.” The Federal Ombudsman has assured the top court that all efforts shall continue to be made to ensure implementation of its orders pertaining to this Ombudsman’s Secretariat for this purpose.