ISLAMABAD, Jan 1: Over a dozen housing societies, including the military-run Defence Housing Authority (DHA), are in trouble with the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for brazenly violating the environment laws of the country.

Section 12 of the Environment Protection Act 1997 says no proponent of a housing project can commence construction, or operation, unless it hands in an Initial Environment Examination (IEE) or, depending on the size of the project, an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report to Pak-EPA.

The IEE or EIA report is vital to understand if the project would damage the environment in any way.

“All housing societies have broken the law,” Director General Pak-EPA Asif Shuja said, lamenting what he called the highhandedness of developers who cared least for the law.

Indeed, documents available with Dawn reflect such highhandedness, most by the DHA among the big culprits.

According to the documents, Pak-EPA had been reminding DHA since 2004 of the violation but the reminders had been falling on deaf ears.

Only after Pak-EPA warned six years later that its failure to comply with the environment laws would result in an exparte decision, did the DHA respond. It wrote back that DHA did not have an expert in the field and could not cooperate with Pak-EPA until it hired one. In other words, DHA told the government agency to hold its horses for an indeterminate period.

Similar warnings had gone to five civil housing societies in Sector E-11 such as Federation of Employees Cooperative Housing Society, National Police Foundation Housing Society, Services Cooperative Housing Society, Multi-Professionals Cooperative Housing Society, Pakistan Medical Cooperative Housing Society as well as to the River Garden, CBR Employees Cooperative Housing Society, Soan Gardens, Lohi Bher, PWD Housing Society, Pakistan Town and Korang Town on the outskirts of the city.

“We will take them to court if they do not comply,” the Pak-EPA chief said about the first big five societies.

“We are serious because they have been dumping sewerage into fresh water streams. They have been served notices in this regard too,” he said to show culpability existed and that it was not an empty threat.

Since the five societies did nothing practical to honour their commitment to check environmental degradation, he said he was “serious” in doing to them what he did to Bari Imam area – plug the pipes emptying its sewage into natural aquifers.

Pak-EPA, in collaboration with the Capital Development Authority (CDA), closed more than 400 sewerage pipelines with concrete to stop the dirty water ending up in streams that recharge the Rawal Lake.

Loopholes in CDA laws are often exploited by private housing societies to run amok with the environment, according to Pak-EPA chief.

Does the government agency has the spine to take on the big, powerful developers?

Asif Shuja explained that in the initial stages Pak-EPA lacked resources and did not feel strong enough to take action.

However, things have changed and the mighty DHA is being “requested” to prepare an Environment Management Plan to prevent further degradation of Islamabad’s surroundings.“There are examples of sound development projects around us to learn from,” he added.

“Bahria Town has complied with every rule and fulfilled every requirement to EPA’s satisfaction when it comes to the conservation of the capital city’s environments. Bahria Town submits an environment assessment report every month of its ongoing development project,” he said.