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KP wants to introduce environmental assessment at strategic level

By Intikhab Amir 2013-10-29
PESHAWAR, Oct 28: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is working to amend its environmental protection law and broaden the scope of environmental impact assessment regime by introducing it at the policy level, a senior government functionary told Dawn.

The provincial law department is looking into a proposal that seeks to introduce the `strategic environmental assessment` concept. If approved, it will pave the way for assessing the environmental impact of plans and policies.

`At present, all mega projects are required to have EIA conducted, but now what we have incorporated into the proposed law seeks to conduct the environmental assessment of (under preparation) plans and policies, determining their impact,` said Dr Mohammad Bashir Khan, managing director of Environmental Protection Agency, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, like other provinces, is enacting its own environmental protection law, replacing the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (Pepa), 1997. The legislation has become mandatory in accordance with the 18th constitutional amendment passed in April 2010, following which matters relating to environment and ecology stand devolved to provinces.

Dr Khan said the strategic environmental assessment, being introduced under the new law, would not be mandatory for all the official plans and policies.

`The legal provisions would be there to enable the government, in case if it, may want to assess the impact of (under preparation) plan(s) or any policy before its introduction,` said Dr Khan. This would allow the government to assess the impact of its plans and policies at the strategic level to determine the environmental and economic impact of a plan or policy.

Under the existing law, onlymega development projects, like water reservoirs and highways are required to have EIA conducted before they are granted approval by the competent development forums. The proposed changes would take the environmental impact assessment regime to another level as the EPA is talking about assessing the environmental impact of plans and policies.

The EPA proposal runs risk of scaring away some official quarters as it asks for subjecting official plans and policies to determine their environmental and economic impact on a larger area before introducing them.

Dr Khan said EPA was cognizant of the fact. The Agency, he added, did not want it to be a mandatory requirement for all the future plans and policies.

`We want the government to have it in the framework,` said the EPA chief. Its presence in the legal framework would enable the government to apply it wherever it needs to assess the impact of itspolicies before their introduction.

`The government `may` ask to conduct strategic environmental assessment of all or any one of the plans,` said Dr Khan.

Besides, the draf t law, according to sources, asks for reconstituting the `provincial sustainable development fund.` The redesigned entity would be with a focus on environmentalimprovement.

The proposed environmental improvement fund, according to the draft law, would extend financial assistance to projects aimed at environmental protection and conservation. The reconstituted fund, according to the draft law, would be headed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa environment department secretary instead of the provincial additional chief secretary.

The new law would be broader in scope and stricter in implementation as compared to the existing federal act that covers the whole of Pakistan. The amendments, said the EPA head, had been proposedin accordance with the environmental protection needs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In this respect, the new law includes provisions relating to `climate change,` `bio-safety`, `electronic waste`, `genetically modified organism`, and `greenhouse gases`. The proposed law entails measures to avert dangers and seek remedies to environment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from these environmental issues.

Since Pepa 1997 is broader in focus and involves regulatory bodies at the national level with representation to all the federating units, the proposed provincial law asks for setting up decision making forums at the provincial level in line with the 18th constitutional amendment.

The Pakistan Environmental Protection Council, a legal entity under the Pepa 1997, would be replaced by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Environmental Protection Council.

The provincial council wouldserve as the top decision making forum that would provide strategic guidance for protecting environment in the province. It would be highest decision making body that would approve policies and strategies to protect environment.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister and the provincial environment minister would be the chairman and vice chairman of the council, respectively.

The proposed law would be, according to official sources, would be tabled before the provincial assembly for its approval shortly after its clearance from the law department. The first draft of the law was prepared in the last days of the previous provincial government, but it could not be enacted because it was low on the previous government`s priorities list.

The new provincial government, said an official, had incorporated certain changes in the draft law as the chief minister wanted to involve tougher punishments for offenders.