The federal capital Islamabad used to be known as a green and clean city, but this began to change about two decades back. Though it is still considered cleaner than other cities of the country, the havoc of environment unfriendly development sowed two decades back by the dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s blue eyed boy Kamran Lashari, then chairman CDA, started showing its impact long back. He was the one who initiated the ill-planned development of the Seventh and Ninth Avenues by developing on land allocated to green belts in violation of Islamabad’s original master plan.Lashari allowed his cronies to construct restaurants and extensive housing right in the heart of the Margalla Hills. The Shakarparian and garden avenue, the second part of the National Park, was raped by massive logging to construct the Art and Craft Village, Pak-China Friendship Centre, Open-air Theatre, Cultural Complex and a large piece of green belt was cleared to develop industrial expo site that is now being used as a parade ground by the military establishment. The capital got a Lake View Park at the cost of thousands of trees and massive encroachment over the catchment area of the Rawal Dam, the third part of the Margalla Hills National Park. Launching of the development projects beyond the financial capacity of the CDA and the capacity of the local environment has caused Islamabad and its people to start facing many health and civic problems. Mr Lashari was the one who disturbed the soul of the Margalla Hills National Park and set the worst examples of environmental enmity. Despite all uproar by the civil society against him and stories appearing in the media, no one could take notice of his environmental crimes. He is also considered the most authoritarian and corrupt chairman of the CDA, but even this title could not harm him. He has been sitting in the lap of the Punjab government since December 2012 as the Director General of the Walled City Project Lahore after his retirement from the federal government. Ironically, it really doesn’t matter who has done what damage to the land and its people. Well-connected bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen are always in, even by flouting the law of the land and clear instructions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.Lashari was not the only one who played havoc with Islamabad’s natural environment. His successors also had a role to play in the environmental degradation of Islamabad. They continued with Lashari’s short-sighted development programs, costing the city more greenbelts, Margalla Hills forests, wildlife, clear-water streams, encroachment on the watersheds and catchment areas of the dams, illegal and unplanned housing and infrastructure in the National Park areas, and Zone IV and V. The emergence of grassroots democracy in terms of Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI) has added to the city’s woes. As many as 21 directorates of services were transferred to the MCI that have been marred by poor performance. Instead of improving the quality and quantity of the services as perceived before the establishment of the MCI, the Union Councils of the local government got engaged in land grabbing, encroachments and other corrupt practices. The bright side of this gloomy picture is that some environmentally aware citizens have come out to raise their voices against the pillage of their city’s natural environment.Active citizens groups can always push the authorities to deliver more if they come out of their own echo chambers and actually pursue those tasked with managing their citiesAn environmentalist and development expert, Mome Saleem launched a Whatsapp group ‘Reclaiming Green Islamabad’ (RGI) in 2015 to engage citizens in the Global Action Day as Pre-COP 23 initiative to ensure the role of active citizenry in sustainable urban development. The objective of the group was to regularly meet on the environmental issues and plan advocacy and activism to protect the green nature of the city, and to share information about the consequences of environmental damage. One good sign is that the group has had several good professionals on its board. Recently, the group has chalked out its way forward to engage the group members with Islamabad city managers to take up remedies to reclaim green Islamabad. The green agenda list of the group is quite exhaustive from taking measures to stop the Margalla Hills forest fires, promotion of water conservation, protesting against illegal and environmentally unfriendly infrastructure, supporting waste management and recycling, and suggesting and following up with the authorities on the improvement of the air quality, and rehabilitation of the green nature of the city.The foremost agenda is to revive the Citizens Committees formed in 2005 in every sector in the absence of the Union Council representatives. These committees were the result of an interactive session with the then CDA chairman Kamran Lashari, organised by the Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) at LEAD House. Being the first meeting of citizens with Mr Lashari, every concerned citizen and environmentalist was present in the meeting. So the citizens committees had ownership of both the authorities and the civil society but were never optimally functional. I believe active citizens’ groups can always push the authorities to deliver more if they could come out of their own echo chambers and actually pursue those tasked with managing their cities. Unfortunately, only a very small group of concerned citizens has emerged in Islamabad so far.The writer is an Islamabad-based policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at email@example.com. He tweets @EmmayeSyed Published in Daily Times, June 26th 2018.