ISLAMABAD: Environmental concerns hung over the Islamabad section of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project on Sunday as work began in the garrison city to realise Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s “vision of providing modern transportation facilities to the people of the twin cities”.
Dawn learnt on the rainy day that the Capital Development Authority (CDA) does not quite agree with Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report submitted by the National Engineering Services of Pakistan (Nespak), which is one of the firms contracted to execute the over Rs44.1 billion project.
Dawn has learnt that the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) disputes the EIA report on 12 points and has asked the CDA to seek answers to them from Nespak.
“Things will become difficult if the Climate Change Division (of the federal government) does not approve the EIA report. All environmental aspects are to be taken into account, including air and noise pollution,” said CDA’s Member Engineering Sanaullah Aman, who is also looking after the office of Member Environment.
“Green belts are affected along certain portions of the Islamabad part of the bus route. Measures will be taken to save the city’s green cover, including trees,” he said, adding that a response to the EIA report is awaited.
Questioned about the work begun in Rawalpindi without approval of the EIA report, another CDA official explained that the Punjab authorities had approved the PC-1 for the Rawalpindi section of the Metro Bus Service.
“In approving the Islamabad section of the project, however, the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) had asked the CDA to get environmental clearance before beginning the work,” he recalled.
Documents available with Dawn show that after reviewing the EIA report Pak-EPA pointed out that its Nespak authors failed to follow prescribed procedure and format and that it is deficient in addressing important environment concerns.
Environment experts in the Climate Change Division claim that not a brick can be laid without approval from the Pak-EPA, and quote the Environment Protection Act 1997 in support.
Section 12 of the Act says ‘No proponent of a project shall commence construction or operation unless he has filed with the Federal Agency an Initial Environmental Examination or, where the project is
likely to cause an adverse environmental effect, an Environmental Impact Assessment, and has obtain from Federal Agency Approval’.
Accordingly, the Pak-EPA seeks to know why Nespak has not discussed the need to destroy green covers and road medians when the bus service can be run on existing roads of Islamabad which provide lanes for public transport.
“Let us not forget that Islamabad’s roads were widened in 2005-06, with one lane dedicated for buses and to cater to mass transit needs in the future,” reminded a senior official in Pak-EPA.
“If the existing lanes are used, the cost of the (metro bus) project and the threat to environment both will come down significantly.”
According to Pak-EPA, the EIA report prepared by Nespak “does not discuss environmental degradation and mitigation costs of the project along with its sustainability nor does it discuss/consider making the Metro Bus Service a Clean Development Mechanism project where it can earn carbon credits from reduced emissions and sell those credits in international market and earn foreign exchange”.
This also raises questions regarding the capacity and type – model and engine – of the buses and availability of fuel.
“We understand that Euro Standard engines have been introduced but Euro standard fuel is still not available in Pakistan,” said a Pak-EPA official.
The Nespak EIA report inadequately discusses why the proposed route, starting from Flashman’s Hotel in Rawalpindi and ending at Pak Secretariat have been selected.
Environmentalists who argue on lessening road congestion to reduce emissions believe that the Metro Bus Service should cover the main arteries.
“Islamabad is expanding towards south and the west. The Rs44 billion project should not cater to the needs of just 150,000 people or so,” observed an environment expert of the Climate Change Division.
He said the planned route would not serve the 250,000 to 300,000 people living in G-13 and G-14 and beyond, towards Islamabad’s new airport.
“Project managers should consider running the 60 buses starting from Rawat to Faisal Mosque and from the new airport to Bhara Kahu, and the small routes/destinations inside the city be covered by smaller transport system like wagons,” he said.
“The idea should be to lessen traffic on these two major highways where congestion takes 60 to 90 minutes to clear during morning and evening peak hours.”
Parking areas along bus terminals, exclusion of the Rawalpindi section from the EIA report, and reasons for the Metro Bus Project succeeding when bus systems introduced in the past had failed have not been discussed in the Nespak EIA report, claimed its critics.