Metro bus project: CDA to place conditional clearance before Senate panel

Pak-EPA’s approval hinges on fulfilling 26 conditions.


Danish Hussain May 20, 2014
The Senate committee on Cabinet Secretariat will discuss 26 conditions the environmental watchdog has attached.

ISLAMABAD:


On behalf of Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA), the capital’s civic agency will present on Wednesday an environmental clearance report issued by Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency(Pak-EPA) for the metro bus project before a senate committee.


The Senate committee on Cabinet Secretariat will discuss 26 conditions the environmental watchdog has attached to the approval accorded to one of the most environmentally controversial projects in the capital.

Pak-EPA had issued conditional environmental clearance to RDA for the Islamabad section of the multi-billion metro bus project, around a month ago, which involves construction of a dedicated corridor for the buses.

RDA, the executing agency, has taken no steps to fulfil the conditions, according to documents available with The Express Tribune.

RDA has yet to draw up an environmental management plan for the project or constitute an environmental management committee (EMC), which is one of the most important conditions spelt out by the Pak-EPA. The EMC is responsible for the management of solid and/or hazardous waste and other issues related to the environment, according to the document.

One of the conditions spells out that RDA develop a plantation plan and maintenance mechanism in consultation with the CDA, which should be shared with the Climate Change Division.

The metro bus project became controversial because of its design for which roads are being carved out of greenbelts along 9th Avenue, commonly known as Agha Shahi Avenue, and Jinnah Avenue.

CDA estimated that some 1,692 plants and trees in the way of the proposed route of the project would be uprooted and 340,000 square feet of greenbelts along the roads would be destroyed. Some trees will be relocated, while around 350 trees older than 20 years will be cut down. A CDA official said the agency was not consulted by contractors or by RDA before felling a number of trees.

The federal capital has been left on the mercy of contractors. Commuters have to navigate through dug up and closed portions of roads to find their way and contend with dust clouds. Conditions stipulate that arrangement be made to clearly mark diversions and avoid dust pollution, but the roads are covered with thick layers of dust.

Environmentalist Dr Jawad Chishtie said Pak-EPA’s role in appraising the project was questionable and the document was an eyewash. “Such conditions are attached to nearly every single road project. You can’t treat this mega project like an ordinary one.”

He said not even a single condition was being fulfilled by RDA, though they were the norm. “Pak-EPA should answer for its criminal negligence in failing to ensure its recommendations are being implemented.”.

One of Pak-EPA’s conditions binds RDA to ensure there is no case related to environmental or social costs pending in court against the proposed project. The fact of the matter is that the apex court had taken suo motu notice of the adverse impact the project would have on the environment and the case is still pending.

Rawalpindi Commissioner Zahid Saeed, who is also the project director, was in Lahore to attend an important meeting according to his personal assistant when an attempt was made to contact him for comments.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 21st, 2014.

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