PESHAWAR: At a time when the climate-related threats are multiplying across the region, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces a near meltdown and is unable to perform its regulatory duties as the environmental watchdog.

The EPA is currently rudderless without a permanent director general and Environmental Protection Council, which is responsible for framing environmental related policies for the implementation of provincial environmental quality standards.

The provincial government recently removed the DG and assigned the office to a non-technical person (a bureaucrat).

The council has not held a single meeting since the promulgation of the Environmental Protection Act, 2014.

Official says all set for air quality monitoring, polluters to get notices on spot

Under the act, chief minister is the chairperson of the 18-memebr council.

According to officials, the maiden meeting of the council was convened in Oct 2020.

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan had asked environment minister Syed Ishtiaq Urmar, who serves as the co-chairperson of the council to preside over the meeting in his absence. The government has so far only notified members of the council.

“All of a sudden, the then chief secretary cancelled the meeting although he (CS) has no powers either to call or cancel the meeting,” revealed an official.

He said that under the law, the government would notify district environmental protection councils across the province. The council will approve environmental policies and EPA will act as an executing body to implement policies and guidelines.

The act says that the council shall hold meetings, as and when necessary, but at least one meeting shall be held in a year and its main functions are approval of comprehensive environmental policies, action plans and ensure their implementation and approval of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Quality Standards.

Established in 1989, the EPA was placed under the environment department in 2001. According to the act, the authority’s main objectives are to protect, conserve, rehabilitate and improve environment, control pollution and promote sustainable development in the province.

From an agency that enjoyed much prominence in the provincial scheme of things in 1990s due to focus on environmental issues, the EPA figures nowhere in terms of relevance today as funds dwindle alongside interest of the bureaucracy as well as the government in improving its performance and impact.

Officials told Dawn that the authority was dormant due to multiple reasons.

According to the act, the EPA shall publish annual environmental report on the state of the environment in the province, but no report has so far been compiled. Instead of publishing annual report, the EPA launched the environmental profile of the province in 2018.

Sources said that the government had allocated Rs15 million for the authority in the 2020-21 annual development programme to publish the second environmental profile but the task was not accomplished and therefore, the funds lapsed.

On the other hand, air quality monitoring equipment donated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which was installed on the rooftop of the EPA building, is out of order.

Sources said the equipment repair costs totaled Rs2.4 million.

“The EPA is unable to monitor air quality of Peshawar and only updates about the provincial capital air quality are available from a small station installed at foreign diplomatic mission,” said one source.

He said that a few years ago, the foreign mission had offered to donate the air quality monitoring machine to the EPA, but the offer was turned down for security reasons.

“Currently, the EPA needs at least four mobile stations to check air quality on daily basis in Peshawar,” he said.

Sources said that the EPA soil, air and water lab had been set up in Sherabad area on the outskirts of the city adjacent to Mohmand tribal district.

They said that the lab couldn’t function regularly as the area remained without power supply for hours due to the prolonged loadshedding.

The sources said that the authority had decided to shift the lab to the Pakistan Forest Institute located on the University Campus and allocated space for it.

A senior official told Dawn requesting anonymity that the authority was faced with many issues.

He, however, said efforts were under way to revive the EPA.

The official said the authority would begin air quality monitoring next week from the Hayatabad industrial estate, while mobile teams would start visiting Hayatabad industrial estate and serve notices on polluters on the spot.

He said steps were being taken to expedite environmental impact assessment for industrial units.

“We will formally ask the chief minister to chair the Council meeting after the authority makes some progress,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2021

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