PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench on Thursday declared the Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit project in accordance with the law but expressed dissatisfaction with the alternative traffic plan of the traffic police in the capital city for the provincial government’s multibillion rupees initiative.

The development came as Chief Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Syed Afsar Shah disposed of two petitions challenging the BRT project on multiple grounds, with certain observations and directives for the relevant officials, including the provincial inspector general of police and Environmental Protection Agency director general.

The bench had reserved judgment on the petitions on Nov 23 after hearing arguments of all parties for many days. One petition was jointly filed by former provincial minister Amanullah Haqqani and local resident Wali Khan and the other by environmentalist Abid Zareef.

Voices dissatisfaction with alternative traffic plan in Peshawar

Advocate Essa Khan argued for the first petitioners, whereas Abid Zareef appeared in person.

Provincial advocate general Abdul Lateef Yousafzai represented the provincial government and advocate Shumail Butt represented SGEC-Maqbool-Calsons JV, the company, which has been awarded the contract of two of the sections in the project.

Former attorney general Mohammad Khursheed Khan, who was also made party to the petitions by the court over his application, had also advanced arguments on different aspects of the project.

In a detailed judgment, the bench overruled the petitioners’ objection that the project was a violation of the KP Local Government Act as under that law, the district government had the authority to launch a mass transit project.

It ruled that the action of carrying out Peshawar Sustainable Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Project (BRT) under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Urban Mass Transit Act, 2016, is with lawful authority.

“The provision of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Urban Mass Transit Act, 2016 is neither in violation of Article 140-A of the Constitution nor irreconcilably contradicts the provision of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act, 2013,” the bench ruled.

The court observed that the alternative traffic plan, as presented by Peshawar SP (traffic) Riaz Ahmad was not on a par with what was warranted in view of the magnitude and scope of works under the project.

It added that the DIG (traffic) was stated to be on a course and had not relinquished his charge and therefore, the inspector general of police (IGP) was to ensure that the charge of the DIG (traffic) was immediately assigned to a responsible officer, who might personally supervise the alternative traffic plan.

The bench directed the DIG (traffic) and commanding officer of the Military Police of Cantonment, Peshawar, to streamline alternative traffic plan and ensure that senior officers are to personally supervise all the critical check points during the rush hours for the smooth flow of traffic and convenience of the public. It asked the DIG (traffic) and commanding officer of the Military Police of Peshawar cantonment to submit the joint reports about the alternative traffic plan on a fortnightly basis to the high court’s human rights cell.

About objection raised against project manager of the BRT Project Implementation Unit Aminuddin that he is facing certain charges of corruption, the bench directed him not to be involved in any manner whatsoever regarding the affairs of the project pending trial before the accountability court in Peshawar.

The bench added that during the interim period the Peshawar Development Authority director general was to personally perform the functions of Project Director of the Project.

About the environmental effect of the Project, the bench ruled that the brief report submitted and oral submissions of the EPA’s DG clearly demonstrate that, prima facie, the prescribed requirements for rendering EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), as provided under Section 13 of the EPA Act of 2014, have been complied with.

“The only issue which irks the Court is that the EIA approval of the Project granted by the Director General, EPA is conditional, which warrants to be periodically considered and extended until its final approval. In the interim period, the worthy Director General, EPA should periodically consider the circumstances highlighted in the EIA, and if the same are found in order, only then the EIA approval be extended.” The court ruled that granting a conditional approval would not absolve the EPA’s DG from his legal duty to ensure that the project fulfils and qualifies the prescribed environmental standards under the law.

The bench directed that the conditional EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) approval granted by the EPA’s DG under Section 13 of the KP Environmental Protection Act, 2014, requires to be finalised.

“The worthy Director General EPA shall fortnightly consider the conditions highlighted in the EIA report, and thereafter, if found in order, to extend the same till its final approval,” the court ruled.

The petitioners had also contended that the technical, financial, supervisory and executing capacity of the provincial government to carry out the project was lacking, hence would lead to disaster. However, the bench did not give any findings on that objection.

“Findings on issues relating to technical and financial aspects of any project, much so of a project which is highly specialised requiring engineering and financial expertise, such as the present Project, ought not to be passed by a Constitutional Court. More so, when the assertions of the petitioners on the factual aspect of the Project are vehemently disputed by the Provincial Government.

“Accordingly, this Court would not like to enter into such controversies and pass any findings on technical and financial viability of the Project,” it ruled. The AG had told the court that the total route envisaged in the project was 26 kms, which was divided in to three sections, and the contractors for each section was finally selected by the Asian development Bank through international competitive biddings.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2017

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