Most of the objections raised at a public hearing to discuss the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report on the Kalma Chowk flyover project on Friday went unanswered by the Communications and Works (C&W) Department and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) officials.
EPD spokesperson Naseemur Rahman said however that no provision in the Pakistan Environment Protection Act of 1997 barred an organisation hired as a construction consultant from conducting the EIA for the same project.
He admitted that it was a shortcoming and led to conflict-of-interest situations but said the responsibility to amend the law rested with the federal government.
Rahman was responding to one of the three objections raised by Lawyer Ahmed Rafay Alam.
Alam, who is representing Shajar Dost and the Lahore Conservation Society in an appeal against the flyover construction in the Lahore High Court, earlier objected to Nespak conducting the EIA. How could one expect Nespak to prepare an impartial report, he asked, when it was the chief engineer for the project. He said Nespak was getting 1.84 per cent of the project cost as its consultancy fee.
Alam also objected to the commissioning of the EIA after construction had started. He said that under Section 12 of the PEPA, the EIA report must be prepared in the planning phase. He said Section 16 of the law required the EPD to take legal action against the C&W Department for the violation.
Alam said the cost of the alternatives to the flyover had not been determined in the EIA. Also, he said, the EIA failed to mention a study commissioned by the Punjab government at a cost of $2.5 million in 2008 for a mass-transit rail for Lahore.
Azeefa Butt and Saima Rasheed of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) expressed concerns about the diversions during the construction period. They said the diversions were notified without proper planning.
A civil engineer asserted that while the flyover would ease traffic congestion at Kalma Chowk, similar congestion would now occur at Model Town Mor and Qurtaba Chowk on Ferozepur Road.
Colonel (retired) Ejaz Nazim of Shajar Dost objected to the sewerage design. He said the design for Kalma Chowk flyover was similar to that for Shalimar Interchange, Jinnah Flyover and Sherpao Bridge. He feared that lack of proper drainage and razing of trees on Ferozepur Road would result in rain water inundating the nearby areas.
Col (retd) Nazim said the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) lacked expertise required to plant trees in urban areas. He said the PHA planted saplings so close together that they did not last for more than a year.
The EPD spokesperson, during his 15 minutes on the dais to respond to the objections, proposed a meeting between environmental groups, the PHA and the EPD to discuss a Bus Rapid Transit System for the city.
Before concluding the session, EPD director general Shagufta Shahjahan said they had notified district coordination officers across the province to encourage plantation of trees native to the area.
Imrana Tiwana, the Lahore Conservation Society secretary, said the project would only benefit the elite. She said the flyover would further sqeeze space for pedestrians. She urged the EPD to declare the project in violation of public interest and recommend that the provincial government work on alternatives that would improve the public transport system.
Earlier, Nespak’s environmentalist Adeel Pervaiz and a Highway Dept chief engineer gave a presentation on benefits of the project. They said it would lower traffic congestion at Kalma Chowk, reduce the time required to commute to hospitals in the area and reduce fuel consumption.
They highlighted noise pollution, dust and traffic problems during the construction period and losses to businesses in the area as the drawbacks of the project.
Project director Sabir Khan said Rs2.6 million had been spent on advertising diversions for traffic during the construction period.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2011.
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