Pak-EPA denies clearance to portion of economic corridor

Published February 23, 2015
Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Zhang Xiaoqiang, Vice Chairman, National Development and Reforms Commission, inaugurate 'Pak-China Economic Corridor Secretariat' in Planning Commission.— INP/File
Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal and Zhang Xiaoqiang, Vice Chairman, National Development and Reforms Commission, inaugurate 'Pak-China Economic Corridor Secretariat' in Planning Commission.— INP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) has denied clearance for the construction of the Raikot-Islamabad highway which is to form a part of the 2,445 kilometre-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Last week, the agency rejected the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the project, describing it unprofessional and lacking information about the costs to environment.

“The report is confusing. The builders of the highway need to address the matter in a serious manner, especially to prevent delays on a mega project of such national importance,” said Dr Mohammad Khurshid, the Epa director general.

Also read: Analysis: China-Pakistan corridor or labyrinth?

Section 12 of the Environmental Protection Act 1997 explains that an EIA report has to be filed and approval obtained from the federal authority on environmental impacts before the construction begins on small or large development projects that can likely cause adverse ecological effects.

Prepared by a private firm, the report does not mention land requirements, demarcation of the land and the number of people to be affected and their resettlement plans. Most importantly, as Dr Khurshid put it, the report does not mention the costs to environment.

The private firm has been hired by the National Highway Authority (NHA) and the China Road and Bridge Corporation, jointly working on the Raikot-Islamabad stretch of the CPEC.

“The alignment of the road is not clear as the report suggests. So we do not know if forests are being cut to clear the way for the highway. The road cannot go through a protected land because it will stop the project. These are some of the factors that the builders need to explain,” said Dr Khurshid.

In response to the assessment report, the environment agency has written to the NHA to change the EIA team or expand it.

“This is exactly why trees are being cut because non-professional people have done environmental assessment. The builders need to hire experts such as civil, environmental and forestry engineers to ensure proper reporting.”

Dr Khurshid also explained how his office was dealing with random consultant companies that conducted environmental assessments and prepared weak reports as done in the past, causing irreparable losses to nature.

“We are in the process of making rules to register companies that conduct environment assessment for development projects. EIAs will only be accepted if they are conducted by Pak-EPA-approved companies.”

However, Saqlain Ikram, who is the focal point in the NHA, said the trade corridor was a state-of-the-art project which would be all weather, faster and safer to travel.

“The project is still in its feasibility stages and would be completed in phases. The government is making sure that there are minimum disturbances to nature and the project passes through least densely populated areas.”

He said the natural habitat and resettlement and social sector issues were must-meet-requirements for such large scale projects that would connect important regions of the country and trigger economic growth.

The realignment of the 24-km-long portion of the Karakoram Highway is also part of the project. It consists of two lanes from Khunjerab Pass to Mansehra, four lanes from Mansehra to Islamabad and six lanes from Islamabad to Gwadar. Work on its feasibility study is likely be completed by June 2015. The NHA is also reconstructing the 230 kilometres of the KKH to accommodate the four proposed dams along the highway.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2015

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