LAHORE: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have proposed changes to the draft Punjab Environment Protection Bill 2012 that would provide for the establishment of a green taskforce to enforce court orders punishing polluters, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The EPA has proposed 13 changes to the draft which will be discussed with environmental experts, lawyers, journalists and industrialists over the course of this week, said EPD Secretary Saeed Iqbal Wahla. The proposals will then be forwarded to the Law Department for inclusion in the draft. The environment has been made a provincial subject under the 18th Amendment and the legislation is meant to replace the Pakistan Environment Protection Act of 1997 which is now defunct.
The first proposal is for the establishment of a ‘Green Force’ which would ensure that provisions of the environmental law and court orders against polluters are implemented.
“We need a task force for enforcement,” said Wahla, adding that the strength and specific functions of the body would be decided in the consultations. Another proposal calls for uniforms for EPA inspectors so they are more identifiable, he said.
The second proposal would give the EPA director general the authority to stop a high-risk pollution activity that may lead to an emergency. Wahla said that this would help the government avert incidents such as the boiler blast at a factory on Multan Road in February which killed 28 people. Another proposal would delegate certain powers enjoyed by the DG to district environment officers.
Another proposal is for an enforcement mechanism to ensure that environment protection orders issued by the EPD to polluters are complied with. “Previously cases where factories disobeyed EPOs were sent to the environment tribunal. We want to devise a mechanism ensuring that the EPOs are followed so there is no need to send the case to the tribunal,” said Wahla.
The EPA has also proposed a system for brining factories set up before 1997 in line with newer environmental regulations. “They will be regulated and penalised if they don’t comply,” he said.
Wahla said that there was no accounting of fines and penalties imposed by the environmental tribunal or vehicle inspectors for air pollution. He said that the EPA had proposed a recovery system whereby the polluter would have to deposit the fee in a bank and then the receipt with the EPA.
He said that the EPA had recommended that environmental magistrates be appointed to deal with minor pollution offences in their districts. “It will help those committing minor offences who have to come to Lahore to attend tribunal hearings,” he said.
Another proposal is for the formation of specific regulations for specific industries, such as maximum noise and vibration levels for mobile phone towers. “We are currently working on rules for poultry farms,” he said.
The EPA has also proposed a schedule of offences classifying pollution offences as major or minor. “Vehicular emissions will be categorised as a minor offence, but a textile mill violating the NEQS [National Environmental Quality Standards] may be classified as a major offence,” he said. The secretary said that the proposals would be amended in consultation with the stakeholders.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2012.