Development at a great loss

ISLAMABAD, July 15: Open roads, the wind in your hair and the green Islamabad whizzing by. That driving meant to be to an Islooite. But no more.

English: Map of Islamabad

English: Map of Islamabad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, despite new and broader avenues and expressways, the capital feels more and more like the clogged Lahore and Faisalabad.

The construction of ever bigger houses and wider roads is damaging the environment and Islamabad’s green image.

Cannot the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-Epa) check the rot?

It did oppose the Capital Development Authority’s plan to build a 13-kilometre road in the foothills of the Margallas for its dire impact on the environment. The then chairman of CDA, Imtiaz Inayat Elahi, agreed with Pak-Epa and shelved the plan.

But the plan has been revived by the civic agency to connect Islamabad with the G.T. Road.

“The Margalla Avenue project is as environmentally destructive as have proved the 7th and the 9th Avenues,” said Director General Pakistan Environment Protection Agency Asif Shuja, who is still waiting for the CDA to submit the environment impact assessment report for the project under Section 12 of the Environment Protection Act 1997.

The law requires that all parties, public and private, submit a report on the damage their building or road projects could cause to the surrounding environment.

In 2008-09, Pak-Epa had objected to the construction of the two avenues, especially the Zero Point Interchange, when the then Minister for Environment Hamidullah Jan Afridi personally visited the site and gave directions to stop the work, demanding the Capital Development Authority submit the EIA report first.

This resulted in negotiations which led to the CDA Board decide  that the civic body would submit the initial environment examination and EIA reports before going ahead with any of its mega development project.

Another outcome of those negotiations in 2008-09 was that the CDA devised an environment management programme for both the avenues as well as the F-9 Park.

But despite this arrangement between the two government offices, the CDA did not stick to the deal.

Pakistan Environment Protection Agency pointed out that the CDA simply went ahead with the construction of the 3rd Avenue, connecting Murree Road with Margalla Road, without sending EIA report to the environment watchdog.

And now, despite resistance from Pak-Epa, the Capital Development Authority has announced its decision to extend the 7th Avenue all the way to the Murree Road.

“None of these are good signs. Despite tall claims to maintain the green character of the capital, the civic body is itself causing destruction of its natural environments,” said an official in the new Ministry of Climate Change.

“The Margalla Avenue project in the foothills is too close to the designated conservation area. The planners face not just ensuring minimum environment degradation but have to manage development along the road where land is privately owned,” added another ministry official.

However, a senior CDA official argued that the civic authority did not need to provide an environment impact assessment report for projects already described in the city’s 1964 master plan.

“An EIA report is necessary for a project not included in the master plan, and where trees have to be cut, to ensure minimum degradation of natural surroundings,” said Director Development Ghulam Sarwar Sindhu, insisting that the Capital Development Authority was fully conscious of its environmental responsibilities.

But the Ministry of Climate Change and Pak-Epa were quick to  reject this claim.

They said CDA planners had conducted and submitted environment impact assessment reports for most of its mega projects before commencing construction work.