Imagine for a moment that you get up one morning with a deep feeling of suffocation, darkness, depression and emptiness. You find the entire neighbourhood in a state of asphyxiation, gasping for every breath of air. Soon you begin to realise 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 most fragrant smelling flowers, lovely ladybirds, cuckoos, parrots, fireflies, 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 firefly nor chase 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 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 delinquents and their accompanying urchins resort to high speed driving often in official vehicles consuming fuel and creating noise. The very peace and tranquility for which the exclusive zone had been created was now on 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 Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has already approved the plunder of yet another hill station (Thandiani) by approving 1,200 kanals for residential and commercial purposes. Likewise Rs100 million have been approved for developing infrastructure to facilitate similar devastation at Malsa and Beringali hill resorts.
The massive acquisition and personalization of the 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 natural heritage and their right to move freely at hills and forests now usurped by the insensitive and self-centred 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 the 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 taxpayers’ expense) for the luxury of high officials. As an example, Rs3 million are spent only to maintain rest houses for TMA and DCO Abbotabad.
Even an organisation like PESCO that is facing losses worth Rs40 billion has no shame in grabbing a two-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.