Margalla Hills National Park suffers as environmental laws are overlooked

In the last two decades a great number of developing countries have introduced environmental impact assessment (EIA) legislation as a project planning tool (Alshuwaikhat, 2005). This shows promising progress, but is the existence of legislation or regulations enough to work towards achieving sustainable development? Are environmental laws always respected? In the developed world, EIA has room for improvement and that room seems even larger in developing countries. As stated by Wood (2003), the performance of EIA in the developing world “generally falls far behind that of EIA in developed countries” (p. 301). Recent cases related to the Margalla Hills National Park in Pakistan are one of many examples.

The country was first introduced to EIA in 1983 by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Ordinance (PEPO) and this ordinance was later replaced by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) in 1997 (Nadeem & Hameed, 2008). Section 12 of the PEPA, 1997 states (Pak-EPA, 2007): “No proponent of a project shall commence construction or operation unless he has filed (…), where the project is likely to cause…adverse environmental effects [,] an environmental impact assessment” (p. 14).

Pakistan has a comprehensive set of legal provisions and guidelines for EIA (Nadeem & Hameed, 2008), nevertheless, as mentioned in Fuller’s study (as cited in Nadeem & Hameed, 2008), having “guidelines does not always mean [that they] are being followed in practice” (p. 564). A number of recent online newspaper articles show evidence of limitations of the EIA system in Pakistan. Last month, Dawn.com (Shahid, 2012) published the case of La Montana; a luxurious restaurant equipped with terraces, spacious parking area, banquet and conference rooms (La Montana, 2011), that was built up in the Margalla Hills National Park without conducting an EIA. It has been in operation for nine months but only now does the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) demand an environmental assessment report to be produced within several days or the management will face legal proceedings (Shahid, 2012).

A nice view of Islamabad from La Montana’s terrace but at what cost to the environment? (Source: http://www.lamontana.pk/)

According to Shahid (2012), Pak-EPA took time in acting “against the illegalities” (para. 3) because of a setback they have once suffered with a similar project; La Montana was built right next to another high-class restaurant called The Monal, which also developed without compliance with section 12 of PEPA, 1997. Such projects do not only modify the natural landscape but as reported by Shahid (2012), concerns lie with the disposal of garbage and wastewater.

A satellite view of two luxurious restaurants on top of the Margalla Hills National Park (Source: Wikimapia: http://wikimapia.org/#lat=33.7601925&lon=73.0657961&z=18&l=0&m=b)

Large-scale restaurant constructions are not the only human developments adversely affecting the Margalla Hills. A major road construction project at the foothills of the National Park has raised concerns as environmental laws are being overlooked (Shahid, 2012 & Teepu, 2012) and stone crushing activities in the Margalla Hills have not only been deemed illegal (a number of stone crushers are operating without valid leases) but have also contributed to environmental degradation over the last decade (Hassan, 2012). It should be noted that these reports do show warnings of legal action as well as opposition to the projects by the environmental agency or even the provincial government but it seems that disregard is at the federal level.

Stone crushing activity defacing the Margalla Hills (Source: http://archives.dawn.com/archives/65572)

There is unfortunate evidence that having sound legal provisions for EIA is only good on paper if they are not followed or enforced in practice. Nadeem and Hameed (2008) discussed several weaknesses in Pakistan’s EIA system, including what Wood (2003) considered the biggest constraint in effective EIA in developing countries: the lack of political will.  From the researched articles, it is obvious that Pakistan’s political resistance towards EIA is one of the main limitations causing the country’s slow progress towards sustainable development. This being said, should one expect rapid improvement in EIA systems in the developing world when a developed country like Canada can make regressive changes to its environmental assessment act in 2012 (Gue, 2012)?

References:

Alshuwaikhat, H. M. (2005). Strategic environmental assessment can help solve environmental impact assessment failures in developing countries, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 25 (4): 307-317.

Gue, L. (2012). Is this the end of federal environmental assessments? David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved from: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/panther-lounge/2012/06/is-this-the-end-of-federal-environmental-assessments/

Hassan, A. (2012, August 25). Crushing units eating away beauty of Margalla Hills, day by day. Daily Times. Retrieved from: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2012%5C08%5C25%5Cstory_25-8-2012_pg11_8

La Montana (2011). Home. Retrieved from: http://www.lamontana.pk/Default.aspx

Nadeem, O. and Hameed, R. (2008). Evaluation of environmental impact assessment system Pakistan. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 28 (8): 562-571.

Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (1997). Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997. The Gazette of Pakistan, 1-25. Retrieved from: http://www.environment.gov.pk/info.htm

Shahid, J. (2012, September 17). Pir Sohawa suffers as restaurants thrive. Retrieved: http://dawn.com/2012/09/17/pir-sohawa-suffers-as-restaurants-thrive/

Shahid, J. (2012, October 6). Pak-EPA warns of stopping Margalla Avenue project. Retrieved from: http://dawn.com/2012/10/06/pak-epa-warns-of-stopping-margalla-avenue-project/

Teepu, I. A. (2012, June 28). Punjab blocks Margalla Avenue project. Dawn. Retrieved from: http://dawn.com/2012/06/28/punjab-blocks-margalla-avenue-project-2/

Wood, C. (2003). Environmental Impact Assessment in developing countries. International Development Planning Review, 25 (3): 301-321.

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