PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench on Tuesday dismissed seven petitions against the issuance of no objection certificates by the provincial government to 14 local cement manufacturers.

Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Mohammad Naeem Anwar pronounced a short order for the rejection of petitions after advocate general Shumail Ahmad Butt and lawyers for petitioners and cement manufacturers finished arguments.

The petitioners had claimed that the government had issued NOCs to 14 cement manufacturers in the province in 2017 in the garb of development and investment without conducting proper environment impact assessment in their respective areas.

Residents had claimed certificates issued sans environment impact assessment

In two petitions, several residents had challenged the establishment of Fecto Cement Factory in Palai area of Malakand area.

They had requested the court to declare illegal the invoking of Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act by the government for acquiring land for the factory saying it threatens environment and health of the residents.

The petitioners had also requested the court to declare the establishment of the cement factory in Palai a violation of the provincial, federal and international environmental protection laws and standards.

Their lawyer said Palai was known worldwide for serene, lush green fields in general and citrus orchards in particular.

He claimed that the official estimates out the number of fruit plants in the area at 171,000.

The lawyer said after the issuance of NOC, the Fecto Cement had requested the mines and minerals secretary to set up a cement factory in Palai by a letter on Aug 4, 2017.

He said the secretary processed the request the same day and directed the deputy commissioner of Malakand to acquire land for the cement plant.

The lawyer said the tehsildar of Batkhela tehsil later issued the affixation notice under Section 4 of the LAA in Palai while EIA was in progress meaning that 400 acres of land was being acquired without even examining the impact of the plant on ecology, environment, bio-diversity, wildlife and human life in the area.

He said particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and CO2 were the primary emissions in cement manufacturing.

The advocate general said the growing unemployment in the area could only be addressed by setting up new industrial units and investing more money in the industrial sector.

He said the government had fulfilled all legal requirements before giving NOC to cement manufacturers, while the Environmental Protection Agency had given advertisements for different areas asking the people to attend public hearings to show if they had any reservations about the factory.

The advocate general said the residents had attended those public hearings.

He said the EPA had given several directives to the manufacturers to mitigate negative effects, if any, of those factories but even then, if the residents had any concern, they could file complaint with the environmental tribunal.

During the hearing into another petition against the acquisition of 4,000 acres of land in Nowshera for the establishing of the Askari Cement Factory, the AG and factory counsel Ishaq Ali Qazi said the government was empowered to acquire land for a development project.

They said the residents were poor people and faced unemployment, so the factory promised them hundreds of jobs.

Another petition had challenged the establishment of a cement factory in Haripur claiming that around 40,000 residents will be affected by it.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2019