Behria road project: Why companies give a damn to EIA in Pakistan?

The most controversial issue in the environmental history of Pakistan is hastily issued environmental approval of a development scheme widely known as Behria flyover and underpass project. It was being built in a posh locality Clifton adjacent to another posh and powerful locality of Defense in Karachi.

The project was meant to smooth the flow of the traffic on a road that leads to a mega housing project of a top builder of the country who is also known because of his philanthropic work and also of his king-making and king-breaking pursuits for his homeland.

The project was started without having any environmental approval from the provincial green watchdog called Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

What is environmental approval?

Environmental approval is actually an acceptance of assurance from the green regulator of the area that the new project will not harm the environment much or even if it harms owner of the project will compensate the harm after its completion.

What is EIA and IEE?

The environmental impact assessment (EIA) or initial environmental examination (IEE) is the report which ensures the green watchdog that full care will be taken with regard to environment while constructing the project and full compensation to environment will be done after its completion. This is done to comply Section 12 of Pakistan Environmental Protection 1997 which is now devolved as Sindh Environmental Protection Act 2014.

eia in PakistanSo the developer ensures the green regulator that it will not or least hit the environment and regulator believes in its words and issue approval by fully binding the developer to never hit the environment a little or fully offset the unavoidable hit.

In this way development continues without hitting the environment and we call this process a sustainable development. It is must for the safety of our planet to shift it to our next generation in a good condition to help them live here happily.

What is Behria road project?

Now let’s again come to the Behria road project. It envisages to build one flyover and two underpasses. The project was to be carried out by the civic agency of the biggest city of the country, Karachi. It was completely funded by the owner or investor of the housing project that is being built at the end of the Clifton area.

It is sufficient to understand why a private firm was financing a civic agency to build a flyover to smooth the road leading to its housing scheme. Before that no any private firm ever in Pakistan even financed part of any development project related to road sector. To the best of my weak memories even in any sector such an act of great kindness was ever done by private sector.

The twist in this smooth-sailing scheme of things occurred when media pointed the environmental violation of the project. It was no problem for the financier or executor of the project. The request for the environmental approval of the project was submitted in SEPA.

Surprising fact

To the utter surprise of the whole lame green sector of the country environmental approval was awarded to it in record six days. Before that SEPA never showed such a brilliant performance and took at least one month to accord a green approval. But its integrity can’t be questioned because maybe it showed speed just to let a rarely found private financing of the project stay in government kitty.

Original flaw

eia in PakistanBut another flaw in accordance of the green approval was validly noted by environmental experts and green activists. The green watchdog first reduced the big environment requirement into smaller one just to speed up the process. Legally project was to be accorded environmental approval on the basis of EIA report to be submitted by its executor. But it was given on a small and quick basis of IEE report which actually means to work for smaller projects. Its reason is still in the dark why a veteran environmental watchdog of the province with more than 20 years of regulatory experience converted the EIA into IEE just to quickly issue the green approval.

Under the green law and its subsidiary rules there is no provision of any arbitrary power delegated to any person to make any environmental requirement milder just to speed up the development process. Haste is not allowed in any kind of legal and technical procedure just to facilitate any development or any act of kindness.

Accordingly a group of civil society legally protested against this environmental violation and went to the court for green justice. Now this matter is in the court that is also asking the executor of the project why environmental approval was not sought on the basis of EIA. Executor has no answer and it is passing the blame on SEPA that why it accepted the IEE report instead of asking for the EIA report. Court has already stopped the work-in-progress of the project. It has also ordered to bring the project site to its original position.

It is likely that on the basis of available evidences the court will take the best possible decision. But this decision will be on the basis of available evidences which are usually so formal and always sugar-coated by all the active players of the dilapidated governance system of the country.

What is the actual problem?

So it is necessary to mention here the evidences which are not easily gotten or available for a few righteous people working within this faulty and cruel system of governance in Pakistan. These evidences cover the three basic points with regard to environmental approval of a development project in the country.

Why a few companies get environmental approval of their projects in Pakistan?

Yes environmental approvals are being issued to development projects in every province of the country. Provincial EPAs are issuing green approval on the basis of EIA or IEE depending upon the size of the project. But numbers of these cases are next to nothing. Only a handful of companies in each province submit their EIA or IEE to get green approval. Also majority of them are multinational companies or franchised of a global brand. Why they are complying with green regulations. Its reasons are five:

  • They are bound by the financier of the project to get environmental approval.
  • Their headquarter in any advance country binds them to get green approval before staring each project
  • They are signatory of any legally binding protocol or accord with any regulator to get environmental approval of their each project in any part of the world.
  • They want to portray their new project as environmental friendly to get the competitive edge of its green marketing.
  • They have expansion designs of tapping new markets and want to fulfill all requirements to become social responsible corporate entity and boost their goodwill.

Why many companies don’t get green approval of their projects in Pakistan?

Almost all the local companies don’t get environmental approval of their project in Pakistan. Even projects working in government sector start without any such approval. Why they avoid to get green approval. Its reasons are also five:

  • Environmental monitoring mechanism in Pakistan is very limited and they are not afraid of any legal action if they start a project without any green nod
  • Environmental mechanism is also not much transparent and they stop the regulatory action by various tactics ranging from pressurizing the regulator to greasing his palm for a criminal silence.
  • They don’t need any green branding for their new project and don’t feel its necessity in future.
  • They know if they don’t get environmental approval even then the commercial interest of their new project will not be hit by any move
  • They are aware that they will protect their new project with the shield of allurement of new investment which Pakistan badly needs.

How to bind companies to must get the environmental approval of all their projects.

If concrete steps are not taken then irregularities in granting the green approval will be continuing with the same pace. The ultimate sufferers will be our environment and our people because of rising pollution as a result of this malpractice.

  • A company without approval cannot avail any utility service including gas, electricity, water etc
  • No tax number is issued or renewed to a company which does not have green approval of its basic installations
  • Financing should be banned to companies which don’t follow green laws
  • Regular environmental audit of the company should be made must and company has to pay its expenses

Is it possible to bind companies must get environmental approval?

With the present system of environmental monitoring in the country it is almost impossible to achieve this goal. Its reasons are three:

  • Provincial EPAs have to do this task but they have shortage of human, financial and technical resources to bind each project to get a green approval.
  • Provincial EPAs also lack competent technical staff because of no rule of merit in hiring process in government sector
  • Provincial EPAs work under government control while owners of many development projects themselves are part of the government or financiers of the ruling parties of the government. So EPAs can’t take action against their own ultimate bosses.

So what is the solution?

Solution is workable but equally so bitter. Rulers will not accept it but this is the only solution. Its main points are:

  • All provincial EPAs must be made autonomous bodies which do the job of independent regulator like financial regulators State Bank of Pakistan and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan are doing.
  • The complete overhauling of the human resources of the EPA should be made purely on merit and all the incompetent lot should be fired immediately.
  • The resources of EPAs including human, technical and financial should be enhanced to make them fully compatible with environmental requirements of the country to control pollution and ensure sustainable development.

Remember there is no solution other than this. Rest of the solution may be an evasion from the truth but will not bring the desired results for the environmental safety of the country. Till then such irregularities like the one in Behria project will be continuing and we will be just commenting on them and expressing our apprehension against no care to our environment.

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