With the passing of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the subject of environment was devolved to the provinces. Subsequently, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government adopted the KP Environmental Protection Act (KPEPA), 2014, by repealing the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997.
It was under this law that the KP Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established, the sole body exercising powers and performing functions related to environment. Besides performing other key initiatives, the agency also formulates standards, receives complaints, issues environmental protection orders (EPOs), levies pollution charges, orders for immediate stoppage of dumping or removal of hazardous substances. It also takes action to ensure proper conditions and can also proceed on civil or criminal grounds against any person involved in polluting the environment or violating the National Environment Quality Standards (NEQSs).
According to the law, three key concerned departments are involved to have stone crushing units installed. The unit is to be registered with the KP Industrial Department under the Power Crushers (Installation, Operation and Registration) Rules, 1998, a lease license for mining has to be obtained from the KP Mineral Development Department under the KP Mineral Sector Governance Act, 2016, whereas an NOC has to be obtained from the provincial agency under the KPEPA.
The KP Act forbids discharge or emission of any effluent or waste, or spreading air and noise pollution in violation of the NEQS. It also prohibits use of hazardous wastes, handling of such substances in excess of the established standards, whereas as per the Power Crushers (Installation, Operation and Registration) Rules, 1998, a one kilometre distance between the crushing units and population is mandatory.
In 2016 the Supreme Court took suo motu action against illegal stone crushing in different areas including Abbottabad, and Margala Hills. The SC banned these crushing units, however, they were shifted to the remote and undeveloped areas of KP. Today, these illegal and hazardous stone crushing units are in the hundreds and have rendered lives of the inhabitants miserable.
Operating without registrations and NOCs, these units are involved in illegal activities in various areas of KP including Nowshera, Mardan, Buner, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Swat, Balakot and Khanpur. Installed near residential areas, the unit are polluting the air, water and soil and are causing serious health problems such as asthma, chest pain, skin allergies and fatal damages to the nervous system of the children, women as well as the aged.
According to rights activists, the locals in these areas can’t sit in the open air due to dust and other pollutants, while dynamite explosions have affected their metal peace. Children’s education, aquatic life, all has been destroyed. The dust emission has damaged the crops, undesirably affecting the earnings and lives of the cultivators.
These illegal units have no precautionary environmental safety measures in place and with an absence of institutional supervision, they continuously keep adding pollutants to the environment. .Moreover, these units are neither developing the area nor are they providing compensation for the damages they are causing to the lives and properties of the locals.
It is believed that only in Sawal Dher area of District Mardan, 40-45 crushing units have been installed, of which only a few have complied with the legal procedures. In the Umar Abad village of Mardan, lives of around 200 families are in jeopardy since crushing units are operating at a distance of less than 500 meters from the residential area. Till date, the authorities have taken no action against these illegal units, while the units’ owners have asked the locals to vacate the area if they have a problem with the pollution.
There is no action from EPA even though it is legally the key environmental watchdog of the area. It is bound by law to take necessary measures for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of the environment and ensuring prevention and control of pollution is nowhere to be seen .
According to the KPEPA’s website, cases of merely 35 factories of Peshawar and Nowshera have been sent to the environmental tribunal, whereas EPOs have only been issued to 30 factories. If the units have not been given the legal approval for stone crushing in the areas, then why have there been no orders to stop the hazardous illegal activities polluting the environment? Why has there not been any proceedings initiated or references filed against these crushing units?
All these illegal units must be immediately closed down and tangible steps should be taken to stop this illegal hazardous crushing in future. Cogent steps should be initiated to restore the damage caused to the environment. All the concerned departments should ensure that crushing units are established at the standard distance from the population, whereas their Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) or Initial Environmental Examinations (IEE) have been carried out. It should also be ensured that they are complying with the NEQSs. The process of IEE and EIA should be streamlined by involving experts and academicians.
The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.