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Environment and the law

Opinion

December 25, 2015

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With existential threats emanating from terrorism and a chaotic law and order situation, the last topic on the government’s mind is environmental regulation and protection. Environmental law constantly takes the back seat in Pakistan and there are several reasons for this fatal mistake, the most significant of which is the lack of institutional awareness and capacity.

There is a narrow understanding of environmental law as a limited field governing issues of pollution, global warming and depletion of natural resources. However, environmental law is so much more than that – it extends to the nitty-gritty of product design, for instance in the form of energy efficient electronic devices. It even has an impact on taxation law in the form of incentives for activities intended to benefit the environment.

Pakistan has ratified a number of key international instruments on the environment, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Ramsar Convention, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

As demonstrated through its ratification of a range of environmental conventions, it is clear that Pakistan, for one reason or another, realises the importance of protecting the environment. However, because of its dualist nature, Pakistan has to transpose international legal obligations into domestic law in order for the provisions to be effective. This is one of the major areas in which the provincial governments must divert their efforts – ie in enacting legislation incorporating provisions of international environmental conventions into domestic law.

In November 1997, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (PEPA) was formed under Section 5 of the Environmental Protection Act 1997 (EPA). Prior to this, in October 1997, the government of Pakistan issued ‘Guidelines for Sensitive and Critical Areas’ in response to the lack of central legislation for wildlife conservation. Post-18th Amendment, there is no need for central legislation on the environment – it is the responsibility of each provincial government to enact its own environmental protection laws. In fact, the guidelines highlighted the existence of provincial statutes providing for the creation and management of ‘protected areas’.

Hardly anyone in Pakistan, with the exception of those in the professional field of environmental law, is aware of the fact that around 11 percent of Pakistan’s total land has been brought under various categories of ‘protected areas’. There are over 218 protected areas, covering approximately 2, 753, 357 hectares. Yet, there the institutional framework through which these areas are protected and managed is lacking.

There are three major categories of protected areas in Pakistan: national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and game reserves. Each province has its own legislation under which protected areas are designated. Some examples include: the Punjab Wildlife Act 1974, the Balochistan Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act 1996 (and an Act from 2014 with the identical title), the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife and Biodiversity (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act 2014 and the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972.

Various provinces and their relevant departments have issued notifications for national parks, game reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. These notifications specify the name of the protected area, the relevant designating authority, the section of the relevant legislation under which such notification is authorised, the date of notification, the total area encompassed, the tehsil, sub-tehsil and district of the protected area and the boundaries of the area.

With such detailed notifications, it is odd that there are major discrepancies in the figures available for the number of protected areas in Pakistan. This, too, is can be attributed to lack in capacity – several protected areas are often denotified to allow for an otherwise illegal activity to become legal for a ‘friend’ of a government official or a ‘VIP’. The lack of capacity prevents those in positions of authority from realising the long-term damage inflicted upon these areas by a single de-notification that allows an individual or group to damage the species, flora and fauna present in the area.

There are, of course, differences between what is permitted in a national park and a wildlife sanctuary – the same is applicable to game reserves. Wildlife sanctuaries are the ‘temple’ of protected areas; they are undisturbed breeding grounds where exploitation of the forest is also prohibited.

Game reserves typically prohibit the hunting and shooting of wild animals, except under special permits which specify the maximum number of animals or birds that can be killed or captured in the area. Moreover, these permits are only valid for a particular period of time. National parks, on the other hand, are mainly designated to protect and preserve scenery, flora and fauna. They can be utilised for educational and scientific purposes but only to the extent that the biological diversity therein is not damaged.

In addition to these protected areas, Pakistan also has protected Ramsar sites. These sites are water bodies of international importance. Since 2015, five new Ramsar sites have been nominated by Pakistan – including Shandur, Deosai complex, Broghil, Rangla and Nara. Although designations of Ramsar sites are not embroiled in the same confusion as protected areas, there remains much work to be done in their management.

Despite the official notification of protected areas, Pakistan continues to see a decline and degradation in its wildlife and habitats. Instead of allowing this to overwhelm us, the government must resolve the factors that have contributed to this dangerous state of affairs.

Some recommendations to the government include establishing an adequate management system with an equally appropriate supervision and monitoring mechanism; initiating efforts and providing incentives aimed at enhancing community participation; conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs); and setting up a comprehensive provincial compliance mechanism to ensure that international obligations undertaken are translated into action.

The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

 

 

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