Environment protection is not high among the priorities of the provincial government, Environment Secretary Saeed Wahla says.
The Environment Protection Department (EPD) was 33rd among 40 provincial government departments in order of funds allocated in the fiscal year 2011-12.
Despite the low funding, most of the allocated funds were either diverted to other projects or remained unspent.
The EPD has returned a little under three fourth of the allocated development funds this year. Of the Rs350 million allocated to the EPD this year, Rs256.8 million has been returned to the Finance Department – about 73 per cent.
But, the lack of interest in environment protection is not the only reason for low utilisation of funds by the EPD. Secretary Wahla says the department also needs to be restructured.
He says four independent directorates should be established in the department. “A directorate each should be established for laboratories; environment impact assessment; hospital waste management and action on citizens’ complaints,” he said.
He says inefficiency on part of the department officials is also a factor in low utilisation of funds.
The funds returned to the Finance Department include a block grant of Rs199.2 million.
Wahla says the grant remained unspent because no new projects were planned in the current year. “The suspension of seven officials from service embezzlement-of-funds charges last year has affected the working of officials. They have grown very cautious,” he says.
As much as Rs14 million allocated for Regulatory Control of Environmental Degradation through Capacity Building of EPA Punjab; Rs8.8 million for Capacity Building of Stakeholders for Mitigating Climate Change Impacts and Earning Money from Carbon Funds and Rs15million for re-establishment of the defunct air-quality monitoring system and setting up of environment laboratories in six districts have also been returned.
Ali Abbas, the laboratories’ director, said tenders had been issued for purchase of air sampling equipment but the project was delayed because of the four months spent in the import of chemicals needed for the three air samplers owned by the department.
Tauqeer Qureshi, a former director of the laboratories, said the staff trained in handling and operating the equipment had resigned because of the delay.
Work on establishment of four biodiversity parks in the province has also been delayed for another year.
WWF Senior Director Dr Ejaz Ahmed regretted the delay. He said the easiest way for the EPD to have finished work on these parks would have been to engage university teachers and students to assist it.
Other projects whose funds have been returned are: funding small-scale environment-friendly projects identified by college students, a community-based environment programme, strengthening of field staff for environment monitoring, establishing of a resource centre, establishing air-quality monitoring systems, capacity building of staff for environment impact assessment (EIAs) and initial environment examinations (IEEs) and setting up of a legal cell for the department.
Dr Pervaiz Amir, a member of the Technical Committee on Climate Change and an agriculture economist, says there is no excuse for non-utilisation of funds. “The department could have sought assistance from academics and outsourced some of these projects,” he says.
He says organisations like LEADS, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, the World Wide Fund for Nature and IUCN could have helped the EPD in some of its projects.
Dr Amir says unplanned devolution of powers to the provinces was partly responsible for under utilisation of funds. “The departments lack trained people to work on projects,” he adds.
Wahla says the department had sought outside expertise for some projects but it did not work out well.
Next year’s plan
Five projects will not figure in the next fiscal year’s plan. The projects and the amount surrendered are:
Regulatory Control on Environment Degradation through Capacity Building of EPA Punjab – Rs14 million
Establishment of Resource Centre at the EPD Office-Rs1.62 million
Strengthening Field Staff for Environment Monitoring-Rs0.175 million
Community-based Environment Improvement Programme – Rs1.65 million
Establishing Air-quality Monitoring System in Punjab-Rs14.6 million
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2012.
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