Lawyers are hopeful that the setting up of ‘green’ benches at the Lahore High Court will expedite the hearing of environmental cases, but the fate of over a thousand cases pending hearing at the environmental tribunal is uncertain.
According to a notification issued by the LHC registrar on April 5, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah has been appointed to the green single bench, which will deal with writ petitions concerning environmental matters. Justice Shah and Justice Shujaat Ali Khan will make up the green division bench, which will hear appeals.Seeking anonymity, a source close to Chief Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed told The Express Tribune that the green bench would decide if a case fell under its jurisdiction or the jurisdiction of the environmental tribunal of the Environmental Protection Agency. The tribunal has been without a head since July 2011 and has over 1,100 cases pending.
District Officer (Environment) Tariq Zaman said that the EPA did not have the authority to transfer the cases pending at the tribunal to the green bench. “We hope the pending cases are taken up by the Lahore High Court but no decision has come through so far,” he said.
Ahmad Rafay Alam of the Pakistan Environment Lawyers’ Association said he believed that the green bench would be better able to tackle environmental cases of public interest.
“It’s heartening that the courts have decided to give the environment the same importance as criminal, company, banking and competition matters, as benches for these already exist,” he said.
Muhammad Azhar Siddique who has moved various petitions including those against the shifting of the city’s main slaughterhouse to Shahpur Kanjran in the absence of a waste disposal system and against the establishment of a parking plaza in an area meant for a park at Liberty Market – said that he hoped the establishment of green benches would speed up the disposal of such cases.
Many environmental petitions, for example one challenging the Lahore Development Authority’s attempt to commercialise a residential area and another against construction on green belts, had been delayed, he said. “Hopefully these will be prioritised now,” he said.
Siddique said that a dedicated environmental judge would tackle environmental issues better. “Before, all judges handled all sorts of cases including those concerning the environment. But a judge appointed specifically for environment cases can handle them better,” he said.
According to another notification from the LHC registrar, all senior civil judges at the headquarters and sub-division levels will also act as green benches.
Until January 2012, some 1,135 cases against polluters such as poultry farms, tanneries, stone crushing units, rice, textiles and paper mills, and lubricant shops were pending at the environment tribunal.
EPA officials were unavailable for comment.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.