WB wary of existing environmental laws

KARACHI - The Coal and Energy Development Department has asked the Environment Department to review environmental laws specifically underground mining of coal operations in Sindh under World Bank guidelines, officials told TheNation on Tuesday. However, the World Bank and other international investors have expressed reservations over the existing environmental laws pertaining to large scale open cast as well as underground coal mine operations in the province, suggesting for immediate review and make them according to international standard. According to sources in Chief Minister House, the Coal and Energy Development Department has written a letter to the Secretary of Environment Department. The letter said that in order to ensure the development of Sindh, coal is conducted in a manner that optimises resources and safeguards environment, so Environment Department should initiate the process of developing legal and regulatory environmental standards for large scale open cast as well as underground coal mine operations in Sindh as per international standards and best practices. Some areas related to environmental issues in the coal mining need specific attention and review of laws, a senior official of Coal and Energy Development Department quoting the letter said. He added that such areas are: Ground removal and digging, water supply, use and its removal, effluent disposal, reclamation of coal mines (open pit), air pollution and spoliation of soil, mitigation of impacts to flora and fauna and mitigation of impacts on construction of related infrastructure e-g power line, roads, channels and housing. A senior official told The Nation that the Coal and Energy Department through its PMU (Project Management Unit) and power Technical Assistance Project has already conducted preliminary review of existing environmental laws and regulations, anticipated impacts and mitigation guidelines for open cast coal mining in Thar, but according to him, a broader review of existing environmental laws relating to coal mining mandatory to follow the World Bank guidelines. According to officials concerned, the Thar has worlds sixth largest coal reserves measuring approximately 175 billion tons, and these coal reserves have potential for power generation for decades. Other coal fields in Sindh are located at Lakhra, Sonda-Jherruk, Jhimpir and Badin. However, 98% coal reserves in Sindh are in Thar region. Present government is endeavouring for the development of Thar coal fields as the most viable and least cost option to tackle the current energy crises. However, large scale coal mining is new to Pakistan as such this sector is also yet to be fully developed to meet international standards, official said, adding, under Project Preparation Facility of World Bank assisted Thar coal and Power Technical Assistance Project, the Coal and Energy Development Department has undertaken review of environmental regulations and laws relating to coal mining. The environment is one of the most critical elements in the coal sector and it also has to develop its policies and guidelines meeting the requirement of coal sector and international investors, official said. When contacted by The Nation, Minister for Environment Department Shaikh Muhammad Afzal said that though before initiating coal mining and other activities, the impact of environmental assessment is necessary under environmental laws. The department will consider further examination of existing laws pertaining to coal mining, if any proposal received from the Coal and Energy Department, he said. Meanwhile, Naeem Ahmed Mughal, Director General Environment Protection Agency said that department has received the letter from coal department regarding review of existing laws under World Bank guidelines. The department will examine the proposal of Coal Department, and prepare laws pertaining to coal mining, if needed, he said.

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