Islamabad – The performance of “green benches” set up by different courts across the country in 2012 to hear cases related to environment has so far been very poor.
These green benches were constituted to expedite environmental cases after the “Bhurban Declaration 2012” at the South Asia Conference on Environmental Justice.
According to a recently released report titled “State of Human Rights in 2012”, by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the green benches across Pakistan could hear only 15 per cent of cases filed during 2012.
The HRCP report says that so far only 20 per cent of the fines, imposed on perpetrators of environmental degradation by the courts, could be collected.
Even though the fine collection is an enforcement issue, the lapse in collection apparently undermined environmental justice promised by the green benches.
Most importantly, the environment watchdogs at the district level failed to move their cases to the green benches.
The Rawalpindi Environment Protection Department (EPD), for example, has been actively monitoring water and air quality standards in the city, but the Environmental Protection Orders (EPOs) served on violators by the EPD face a bottleneck.
The environmental tribunal of the Punjab Environment Protection Agency (EPA), which conducts legal proceedings in the light of EPOs, took up cases at a snail’s pace.
Secretary Rawalpindi EPD, Shaukat Hayat, said that the tribunal only adds around 30 new cases at each hearing even if the EPD prepare 300 cases. A set of tribunal hearings is usually conducted once every two months.
The HRCP report also noted that over 2,500 trees were cut down across Pakistan as a result of developmental projects in 2012. Over 100 of these trees were reportedly mowed down by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad.
Technically, work on any development project cannot begin without permission from the provincial EPAs. The permission is a prerequisite for an initial environmental examination or an environmental impact assessment report which must be submitted to the EPAs.
“But the environment impact condition is flouted routinely, even in government projects,” says the HRCP report.
The report lists the Lahore’s Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), a housing project in Peshawar and flyovers in Karachi as examples of projects which went ahead without environment impact assessments.
At a recent discussion about environmental vision of political parties, Ahmad Saeed, a project manager at the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said that the weak implementation of environmental impact assessments is a major hurdle in environmental preservation and protection.
He said that developers and companies will start taking into consideration the environment impact assessment issue, if tribunals and green benches hold the existing violators accountable.