Supreme Court expresses concern over environmental degradation in KP

Published October 6, 2020
This file photo shows the Supreme Court building in Islamabad. — AFP/File
This file photo shows the Supreme Court building in Islamabad. — AFP/File

PESHAWAR: The Supreme Court on Monday expressed annoyance at environmental degradation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and directed the provincial Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to produce a detailed report about its functioning, organogram and equipment it had to address the growing deterioration of environment.

A bench consisting of Supreme Court Chief Justice Justice Gulzar Ahmad, Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijazul Ahsan directed provincial advocate general Shumail Ahmad Butt and EPA director general Dr Mohammad Bashir to ramp up efforts to improve the situation observing that air in the province is unbearable for the people due to bad quality.

The chief justice wondered where the billions of trees were planted as he and other judges didn’t see any tree on government land and along the roadside on the way from Islamabad to Peshawar a day ago.

Court says air so polluted that use of mask a must; seeks EPA report

The bench was hearing a human rights case related to environmental pollution in KP. Former Supreme Court chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar had taken a suo moto notice of the matter in 2018.

The bench ordered that the case would be heard again after four weeks and that the EPA chief should produce the sought-after report and disclose details of his organisation’s employees, especially inspectors, and relevant equipment.

Besides the AG and EPA chief, secretaries Javed Marwat of industries department and Shahidullah of the environment department were also in attendance.

When the bench began hearing into the case, the chief justice expressed dissatisfaction with a government report and observed that the report had the details of the cases decided by the environmental tribunal and nothing else.

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad observed that while coming to Peshawar, they witnessed the blanket of dust enveloping the city, which exposed the performance of the relevant quarters for addressing the issue.

“The air is so polluted in KP that you have to wear face mask even if there is no coronavirus pandemic,” observed Justice Faisal Arab.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that emissions by cement factories, steel furnaces, brick kilns, vehicles and stone crushing plants polluted environment and therefore, the EPA should take tangible steps to check it.

The chief justice said the officials appearing before the bench were clad in neat and ironed clothes clearly showing that they spent the daytime in air-conditioned rooms instead of working in the field.

“The issue won’t be resolved merely by writing letters. Practical steps are needed. Writing letters is a clerical job and the officers should focus on practical work by going to the field,” he added.

The chief justice observed that if these officers were not capable of dealing with the matter, they should be removed and replaced by the competent authority.

The bench observed that the Supreme Court had suspended the functioning of industries and cement factories in Islamabad for causing air pollution and they were allowed to resume operation only after they complied with the regulations.

It asked the EPA chief about the the people visiting hospitals with problems caused by environmental pollution.

The bench also wondered if Dr Bashir had ever visited any factory to ascertain air pollution caused by it.

The EPA chief replied that he had visited all factories in the province and ordered action against the violators of environmental laws.

He also said the authority had issued SOPs to stone crushing plants and had been keeping an eye on them to fully implement the same.

When Justice Ijaul Ahsan asked about the use of zigzag technology in brick kilns to reduce carbon emissions, the DG said the technology had so far not been introduced but the agency was preparing a PC-I for the purpose and had taken up the issue with the Brick Kiln Association so that its members could switch over to the new technology by Dec.

Dr Bashir said his organisation had also asked cement factories to adopt the Bag Filter Technology to reduce harmful emissions, while those setting up new factories were also told to employee an environmentalist and forester and plant trees on the premises.

He said 384 violators of environmental laws were booked and Rs11.1 million fine were recovered from them in the last two years.

Provincial advocate general Shumail Ahmad Butt informed the bench that the government had banned two-stroke engine rickshaws and had also not issuing new permits to four-stroke rickshaws.

He said the province had 19 cement factories and 10 of them were converted to the Bag Filter Technology, six were non-operational and three had approached the Peshawar High Court.

Mr Butt said the KP government would help brick kilns convert to the zigzag technology.

The bench observed that the government had to increase their efforts as the number of industries in the province was fewer than those in Faisalabad and Lahore, where the issue of factory emissions was properly addressed.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2020

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