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Collateral damage

After being in power for more than four years, the PTI-led KP government, with the help of the City Development Initiative for Asia, established the TransPeshawar Company (TPC).
The company was declared the sole responsible body for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project’s design, procurement and implementation. It was also responsible for the ongoing BRT operations and service contract management. The KP government borrowed Rs42.5 billion from the Asian Development Bank in this regard.
Under the Environmental Protection Act, 1997, a mandatory initial environmental examination and an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is carried out for every project and a report is also prepared. And without the approval of the EIA’s report by the federal or provincial environmental protection agency, the construction of any project can’t be initiated.
In addition to reviewing a project’s adverse environmental effects, the EIA report specifically ensures the implementation of concrete mitigating measures to tackle environmental issues that arise due to the construction work on various projects. The BRT’s EIA report was prepared by the Peshawar Development Authority and the KP government for the Asian Development Bank.
A bird’s eye view of this EIA report informs us that there are certain parameters enshrined for the BRT project’s construction phase whereby the government, while conceding to different potential environmental issues, has promised that special mitigating measures will be adopted to minimise their impact.
It has been promised that to control dust emissions from the construction activities, regular water sprinkling will be conducted. Water should be sprinkled by handheld sprays or with the help of automatic sprinkler systems. Furthermore, the dust emission should also be reduced through wet suppression. And if surplus water is not available to suppress dust at certain locations, the contractor should install barriers to protect the sensitive receptors and passing traffic.
According to the EIA report, dust-suppression measures must be adopted frequently in the disturbed surface areas to maintain a stabilised surface while the areas that cannot be stabilised, such as wind-driven dust and unpaved roads, will be watered at least twice a day.
It was also decided in the EIA report that proper solid waste management programmes would be designed and implemented and necessary control equipment and techniques would be applied to control the noise level.
According to the report, this can only be ensured through periodic monitoring of the noise level. Any increases in the noise level that stems from the construction activity should not go higher since the project area is already a noisy environment. Moreover, a noise control plan should be prepared. This will ensure that equipment noise is reduced at source through proper designs and maintenance and by repairing construction machinery and equipment with the promise to ensure as far as possible that construction activity near schools would be conducted during their vacation period.
The rather balanced EIA report – wherein the KP government has planned and promised concrete and cogent mitigating steps – seems to have been forgotten in a “hurry”. The gutters along Peshawar’s University Road have been opened and services roads have been drilled to build water and gas pipes. Moreover, an ocean of dust can be seen throughout the construction zones, with no other mitigating measures being adopted in the region.
The green belt established as a part of the Peshawar Beautification Project has been bulldozed. Dust is being continuously added to the already polluted air, making it tougher for people to breathe near construction zones. Peshawar’s environmental conditions – which have already been declared to be quite hazardous by the World Health Organization – is being further polluted because drains remain open and no specific mitigating measures have been adopted to control dust, noise and other health hazards.
The environmentalist believes that summer is an appropriate time to carry out construction. However, the government has opted to construct the BRT in winter, making it unhealthy for people – especially those who are working or moving around its construction zone.
We understand that the BRT is of considerable importance for the city of Peshawar City. We have to pay a price for such large projects. But it should not cost us our lungs, eyes and skin. The guidelines and parameters set out for its construction should be strictly followed and lives of the people should be protected.
For more than three months, the people who struggled to eradicate dengue fever have found their efforts to be in vain as the population remains at the mercy of dust, smoke, noise and open drains. As a result, the government should construct the BRT project by simultaneously making an attempt to safeguard the environment from further deterioration. Peshawar’s environmental conditions are already unfit for human life. Why should we make them more unbearable by not taking the right steps?
Without proper checks and balances and a thorough implementation of the National Environmental Quality Standards, dust, noise and waste will make the environment all the more unbearable and may also create serious chronic bronchial, epidermal and other diseases among the people. The government must also ensure the implementation of cogent mitigating measures, as promised in the EIA report, to safeguard the environment and save the lives of people.

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.
Email: irshadahmadadvocate@gmail.com
Twitter: s_irshadahmad

Irshad Ahmad, "Collateral damage," The News. 2017-11-27.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Environmental issues , Environmental effects , Environmental impact , Environmental conditions , Pollution , Ecosystem , Smoke , Noise , Peshawar , EIA , BRT