On environmental initiatives

Published: May 9, 2012
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The writer is the vice-president of the Pakistan Environmental Law Association and also is chairman of Lesco. The views expressed in this article are his own

The writer is the vice-president of the Pakistan Environmental Law Association and also is chairman of Lesco. The views expressed in this article are his own

The Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution abolished the Concurrent Legislative List. This was the list of subjects that both parliament and provincial assemblies could legislate upon. The abolition of the Concurrent Legislative Lists means that parliament is restricted to legislation on subjects mentioned in the Federal Legislative List alone.

Before the Eighteenth, the phrase “environmental pollution and ecology” appeared at Serial Number 24 of the Concurrent Legislative List. This was the only mention of the environment in the Constitution. After the Eighteenth Amendment, the subjects of “environmental pollution and ecology” are now solely the legislative domain of the provincial assemblies and the word ‘environment’ does not appear in our Constitution.

Despite their conspicuous absence, environmental rights have been vigorously upheld and protected by our courts. In Shehla Zia vs Wapda (1994), the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that a clean and healthy environment was the fundamental right of every citizen of Pakistan by reading the right to a clean and healthy environment into the Fundamental Right to Life protected by Article 9 of the Constitution.

Since the Shehla Zia case, the Supreme Court and the High Courts have repeatedly upheld the right to a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right. It is no exaggeration that environmental rights in Pakistan owe their existence to judicial intervention and activism. After Shehla Zia, parliament passed the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) 1997, which goes a long way in complying with the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992) to which Pakistan is a signatory, protecting the environment and ensuring that citizens have legal recourse in the event that their environmental rights are violated. However, environmental rights should be protected by the law and not just the courts. Though PEPA still exists, it is the responsibility of the provincial government to rise to the challenge of protecting the environment.

June 5, 2012 is World Environment Day. It will also be the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Rio Declaration. Approaching this auspicious occasion, several measures taken by the government of Punjab merit appreciation. The first is the assent, granted by the governor of Punjab, to the Punjab Environment Protection Bill, 2011. The newly notified Punjab Environment Protection Act, 2012 provincialises PEPA post the Eighteenth Amendment and is a step towards the province ensuring the environmental rights of its citizens. The newly notified law also allows the government of Punjab to appoint a chairperson for the Environment Protection Tribunal, which had remained defunct since last summer on account of the retirement of its previous chairperson.

Yesterday’s newspaper brought news that the Punjab government, in consultation with the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, has appointed a new chairperson of the Tribunal. This is a gift from the Punjab government on the eve of World Environment Day. It is now up to the Tribunal to take the initiative and adjudicate cases regarding harm to the environment. The government of Punjab has also approved a Lahore Canal Urban Heritage Park Bill for the assembly. This bill, the first of its kind in Pakistan’s history, is the outcome of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek’s activism to protect the natural and man-made environment along the Lahore Canal from destruction resulting from road-widening schemes. Although the bill falls short of protection of the green belts along the Lahore Canal, it is a huge step forward in urban planning legislation in Pakistan. One hopes that the advisory committee to be established under such a bill, if passed by the Punjab Assembly, will remain independent and resist future attempts to widen Canal Road — in the name of specious development — at the expense of the natural environment.

Last week, the Environment Protection Department and the Environment Protection Agency of Punjab invited comments from representatives of all of Punjab’s districts, both official and NGO, on what to do for World Environment Day. Despite valid criticism of some of the steps mentioned above, the momentum developing in relation to environmental awareness is to be commended and it is hoped that the provincial government can maintain its current trajectory.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • faraz
    May 9, 2012 - 11:04PM

    So roads shouldn’t be widened because of trees? Why don’t these elite activists go to areas outside the city and grow as many trees as they want. The main benefit of tree is that it absorbs carbon dioxide; old or new trees make no difference. Old trees don’t serve any special purpose!

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  • Asif
    May 10, 2012 - 2:01AM

    Punjab government deserves a pat on the back for such step, worthy of appreciation.

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  • May 10, 2012 - 8:22AM

    Trees need a lot of time to grow. the Government should had make arrangements before cutting those valuable assets along the canal road. As now, with no trees there and more and more vehicles , there is going to be a lot of pollution.

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  • Ali
    May 10, 2012 - 11:01AM

    just to let you know while you talk about protection of Lahore Canal from destruction, today they have taken another chunk of green belt along side underpass at Noon Avenue, Muslim Town.

    So much for the Lahore Canal Urban Heritage Park Bill.

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  • May 10, 2012 - 7:05PM

    I am completly agree with annum, I belong to Bahrain swat and here the natural and beutiful forests are just finishing as a result of illegal smuggling while forest department try to do plantation in the mountains.
    The govt and forest people should concern the present natural forest so it will better then to grow new trees as it take along time to grow…

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