ISLAMABAD: There exists a law on environmental issues that comes into force only when development projects are more than halfway through.

This is particularly true for small and mega projects started by the CDA, such as the dualisation of the G-10 and F-10 service roads.

The project was initiated in violation of section 12 of the Environment Protection Act 1997 the same way as the Zero Point Interchange in 2008 and the ongoing widening of Islamabad Highway had been started.

The act, authored by Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid of the PML-N, clearly states that no construction project can be initiated until an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is prepared following the prescribed guidelines in consultation with all stakeholders and presented and approved at a public hearing.

Dualisation of service roads started in G-10 and F-10 without mandatory Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)

Though the dualisation of the service road starting from the roundabout in G-10/2 to Khayaban-i-Iqbal in F-10/2, commenced in April 2016, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) has still not approved the project.

An EIA report submitted by the CDA after initiating the project was rejected.

“The report was rejected for the blatant violation of environmental laws,” said Pak-EPA Director General Farzana Shah.

After receiving complaints from the residents, Pak-EPA has now scheduled a public hearing on Thursday to take advice from experts and listen to the concerns of the residents and set conditions before approval by the environment watchdog.

While the service road is intended for local traffic, some feel that heavier traffic would expose the residents to high levels of noise, dust, pollution, and safety issues.

“Noise and dust levels are already so high that living has become difficult,” said service road resident Vaqar Zakaria.

He said the residents had conducted tests for dust and noise levels on their own. The results showed the noise and dust levels already exceeding the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) by a wide margin. Heavy dust particles were higher by 67pc (PM10), 275pc for fine dust (PM2.5) and 35pc for nighttime noise.

The report was submitted to Pak-EPA which has done little to address the environmental concerns.

The residents complained that they were surprised over the Pak-EPA working which was entrusted with protecting the environment and upholding the law.

“This service road was more than 50pc complete and only now has the CDA been forced to submit a poorly prepared EIA report to Pak-EPA in response to written complaints and public interest litigation,” said Ayesha Ahmed, another resident of F-10.

The residents complained that the post-facto action nullified the entire purpose of an EIA which sets a dangerous precedent.

“Future developers will simply wait for their construction projects to arrive at an irreversible stage and then send environment reports to Pak-EPA to get a post-facto stamp of approval.”

When the Pak-EPA chief Farzana Shah was asked about violations of the environmental law, she said: “Pak-EPA is in the process of strengthening the process to penalise violators. Concerns taken up during the public hearing will be included in the no-objection certificate (NOC) as conditions.” The residents, nonetheless, maintained that the CDA’s recent history in environment management and Pak-EPA in protecting showed willful non-compliance and persistent neglect.

Vaqar Zakaria added: “Citizens had to litigate to stop the construction of an unauthorised electric grid station in the F-9 Park. The EPA recently held a public hearing on Islamabad Expressway which is already under-construction. The EPA/CDA permitted the construction of restaurants, shops and car parks in the Margalla Hills National Park, defined as a sensitive area in the EPA guidelines.”

About the dualisation of the service roads, CDA spokesperson Malik Saleem explained: “Upgrading roads are for the convenience of the residents. New road upgradations are a part of the Master Plan of the city.”

For rehabilitating natural settings affected by the development projects, Mr Saleem said, the CDA had recently developed a standard operating procedure to plant 10 trees in place of one cut down.

The CDA has also planned to dualise Attaturk Road from Khayaban-i-Suharwardy to Khayaban-i-Margalla and service roads in E-11, he added.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2016