Islamabad: HON’BLE CHIEF JUSTICE, HIGH COURT OF BALOCHISTAN;
HON’BLE JUDGES, HIGH COURTS;
LEARNED JUDICIAL OFFICERS;
LEARNED MEMBERS OF THE BAR;
DISTINGUISHED CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS;
LADIES and GENTLEMEN!
It is an honour and privilege for me to inaugurate this Conference on ‘Environmental Law’ organized by the High Court of Balochistan. At the outset, I highly appreciate the efforts of the Chief Justice of Balochistan, Mr. Justice Qazi Faez Isa for providing us with an opportunity to divulge upon a very important yet somewhat ignored discipline of law, i.e. Environmental Law. Indeed, it is a right step in the right direction as environmental pollution and degradation is assuming cataclysmic proportion which is clearly manifested by unprecedented flooding and other climatic changes being observed in the country in the last many years.
Environment in its simplest form can be termed as a surrounding comprising of living and non-living entities. The living components of the environment include plants, animals, humans and every living being while land, air and water farm the non-living components.
The laws of nature are always just. Every being, whether living or non-living, in this universe has been created by Almighty Allah to follow specific laws of nature. The Holy Quran has made it clear that every creature of this universe has two major purposes: a religious purpose evidencing the presence of its Maker and His infinite wisdom, grace and magnificence; and a social purpose to serve the man and other beings.
These divinely set out standards and distribution of all creatures and elements lead to maintain a dynamic balance in the ecosystem and environment.
“And He has made the ships to be of service unto you, that they may sail the sea by His command, and the rivers He has made of service unto you. And He has made the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and He has made of service unto you the night and day. And He gives you all you seek of Him: If you would count the bounty of God, you could never reckon it.” (Quran 14:32-34)
The Holy Quran further says that:
“Verily, all things have We created by measure” (Quran 54:49)
“…Everything to Him is measured.” (Quran 13:8)
“And We have produced therein everything in balance.” (Quran 55:7)
Human beings have been given superiority over all the other creatures and elements of this universe by Almighty Allah on the basis of intellect, reason, logic and ability to judge between right and wrong.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon the man to protect the nature and not to disrupt the dynamic equilibrium set by Almighty Allah. Destruction, misuse or abuse and over exploitation of natural resources are all transgressions against the divine scheme.
In Pakistan , environmental legislation covers a wide range of subjects including hazardous substances, health, forestry, landscape, water, air, soil and land. The major legislation in this respect is the Environmental Protection Act 1997 which replaced the environmental Protection Ordinance of 1983.
The Environmental Protection Act 1997 provides for the establishment of two bodies, which are the Pakistan Environmental Council (Sec 3) and the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Sec 5). Both these bodies have their respective functions and duties for providing comprehensive National Environmental Policy, implementation of National Conservation Strategy, formulation of National Environmental Quality Standards, Publication of National Environmental Report and the establishment of a system to monitor, examine and inspect the environmental problems and to provide for their solution.
There are a number of central and provincial enactments on environmental laws in Pakistan. At the International level, Pakistan is a member of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), South Asia Cooperative Environmental Program (SACEP). Pakistan is also a signatory to a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements and Conventions.
To have a plethora of laws on any subject can never be a cure for the redressal of problems. Rather it is the will to implement and enforce these laws that serve as the best solution. In Pakistan, despite having a number of Federal and Provincial Statutes, we are still faced with many environmental problems including air pollution, industrial wastes, soil erosion, scarcity of natural resources, poor sewerage systems, salinity of water, agricultural runoff, destruction of landscapes and forests, unplanned and illegal construction.
Environmental laws and regulations need to be implemented, enforced, and complied with efficiently and vigorously. The proper implementation and enforcement of environmental laws is not possible until and unless all the three organs of the government i.e. the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary play their respective roles.
It is for the executive to formulate and promote healthy environmental policies for the protection and conservation of natural resources and for the sustainable economic growth of the country. The Legislature can play its role by revising outdated laws and by providing forceful legal machinery.
The role of Judiciary, however, cannot be downplayed as strengthened judicial machinery is a sine qua non for the proper enforcement and implementation of laws. There is also a need to bridge the gap between the national environmental policies, legislative goals and their implementation.
The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 empowers the Central and Provincial legislatures to formulate laws for the protection of its citizens; however, there is no specific provision therein on the protection of environment. Previously, the Constitution of Pakistan contained provisions for environmental protection and resource conservation by mentioning “Environmental Pollution and Ecology” as a subject in the Concurrent Legislative List.
The same has been omitted by the Constitution (Eighteenth Amdt) Act 2010. Consequently, this subject gets transferred to Provinces. The Constitution of India on the other hand specifically provides under Article 48A that the ‘State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.
Similarly Article 51-A of the Indian Constitution makes it obligatory for the State ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures’.
This conference, apart from other issues, may also consider the peculiar situation which has emerged in Pakistan in the aftermath of adoption of 18th Amendment. The Environmental Protection Act, 1997 has since been adopted by the Governments of the Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan by virtue of Art 270 AA of the Constitution; whereas the process of devolution of the matters mentioned in the List to the Provinces required to be completed by 30th June 2011, has not been done so.
This Conference needs to consider this aspect and suggest workable mechanism for effective protection of the environment both by the Federal and Provincial Governments.
The law on the environmental protection may not be perfect but it contains several useful provisions for ending environmental degradation. Indeed, the Judiciary has always endeavoured to redress grievances pertaining to the environmental issues within the existing legal sphere.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan in the famous case of ‘Shehla Zia versus Wapda’ (PLD 1994 SC 693) has extended the scope of Article 9 of the Constitution to cover certain aspects of the environmental pollution. The case pertained to the construction of a high voltage grid station by the Water and Power Development Authority.
The Supreme Court interpreted the ‘right to life’ guaranteed in the Constitution to include the right to a clean environment. The Court observed that although the Constitution of Pakistan does not define the word life still its scope cannot be restricted only to the ‘vegetative or animal life or mere existence from conception to death.
All such amenities or facilities which a person in a free country is entitled to enjoy with dignity, legally and constitutionally’, were held to be covered under the word life. The Court appointed a Commission to examine the likelihood of adverse effects of the grid station on the health of the residents of the locality.
Most importantly, in this case the court also placed reliance on international declarations on the protection of the environment, namely the declaration of United Nations Conference on the Human Environment Stockholm 1972and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992. The Court observed that as an honourable member of international community, the state is bound to follow international law.
Similarly, in a Human Rights case titled ‘General Secretary, West Pakistan Salt Mines Labour Union Khewra, Jehlum vs. Director Industries and Mineral Development Punjab, Lahore (1994 SCMR 2061); wherein the petitioners had sought the enforcement of their right to have clean and unpolluted water and asserted their apprehension of contamination of the watercourse, reservoir, and the pipelines; the Supreme Court made directions to the concerned departments and directed the miners to shift within four months, the location of the mouth of the specified mine at a safe distance from the stream and small reservoir in such a manner that they were not polluted by mine debris , carbonised material and water spilling out from the mines to the satisfaction of the Commission appointed by the Supreme Court for the purposes.
There are many other cases of vital importance wherein the Superior Courts have got themselves involved in the environmental regime and annulled various measures and actions of executive authorities that aimed to disrupt the environmental protection schemes.
Some notable cases in this respect are the Suo Motto case No. 25 of 2009 involving the matter of cutting of trees for Canal Widening Project Lahore; New Murree Project (2010 SCMR 361) the case involving the setting up of a new lavish tourist city; and the Environment Pollution Balochistan matter pertaining to the dumping of nuclear and industrial wastes at the coastal zones of the Province.
A learned Division Bench of the Lahore High Court in an Intra Court Appeal titled ‘City District Government v Muhammad Yousaf’ (I.C.A No 789/2002); wherein the use of Mehmood Booti as a site for dumping solid wastes was challenged, appointed a Solid Waste Management Commission with a direction to the same to devise an optimal environmentally appropriate way for disposal of solid wastes.
The involvement of Judiciary in all matters is by no means a panacea until and unless the State functionaries perform their responsibility of promoting a healthy environment in the country.
The Balochistan High Court’s effort to arrange this conference is highly laudable. Balochistan being the largest Province of Pakistan with enriched natural resources deserve all the necessary attention and reformation at par with the other provinces.
There is a need for the inclusion of environmental laws in the syllabi and legal education of all law schools and universities at Federal as well as Provincial level. The goal of effective implementation of environmental laws and National Environmental Quality Standards can be achieved by a vigilant bar and a sensitized judiciary.
Similarly, ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ which is an internationally recognized phenomenon and also protected under the Environmental Protection Act 1997 should be given due weight and priority before approving any construction project.
The provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a range of mountain areas and forests. These mountains and forests not only add to the beauty of nature but are also sources of rain, water, weather protection and livelihood. In Pakistan, the cutting of forest trees, burning of tress and the installation of crusher machines often go unheeded and unchecked by the executive authorities.
There is need for proper legislation whereby the installation of crusher machines privately or publicly, could be checked and regulated, ensuring that they do not pose any threat to the environment. A wide range of mountain areas of the country have been reduced to plain lands for financial purposes.
Instead of mountains, gravel or natural habitat having springs and brooks can be utilized as sources for sand and rockery. The effectiveness of actions depends on a solid foundation of laws, regulations, and implementing mechanisms, therefore, the Government should pay heed to provide necessary and effective legislation to curb these vices.
In the end, I would like to appreciate the vision of the Conference organizers for conceiving the idea of this National Conference. No doubt, our shared environment in all its manifestation is a sacred trust in our hand which we inherited from our predecessors and which needs to be passed on to our future generations.
It is our prime national responsibility to ensure that this sacred trust is preserved in its most pristine and natural existence. It will be achieved only if we work in tandem and as a team to properly secure the environment by a joint effort of the Civil Society, the Media, the Executive, the Legislator and the Judicial organ of the State. No single individual or institution can claim the capability or the authority to achieve such national aims and objectives.
I conclude with Mr. John McConnell, the founder and creator of Earth Day:
“Let every individual and institution now think and act as a responsible trustee of Earth seeking choices in Ecology, Economics and Ethics that will provide a sustainable future, eliminate pollution, poverty and violence, awaken the wonder of life and foster peaceful progress in the human adventure.”
May God Bless Pakistan
For more information, contact:
Shahid Hussain Kamboyo
Public Relations Officer
Supreme Court of Pakistan
Tel: +9251 920 4184
Fax: +9251 920 1001