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Implementation Of Environmental Laws Vital To Fight Climate Change

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The Lahore High Court (LHC) recently delivered a landmark judgment authored by honourable Justice Jawad Hassan regarding plantation of trees across Punjab.

In multiple petitions filed before the court, I appeared as a lawyer in this case on behalf of non-governmental organisation ‘Human Voice’.

In the comprehensive judgement, the honourable judge directed the Punjab government to implement all applicable laws, directions and judgments of the SC and High Courts with respect to trees plantation and climate change, in order to plant, protect and preserve the forest. 

All the respondents including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as forest department were asked to take steps to protect, manage and conserve forests and trees in urban areas.

The court also asked the authorities to revise the requirement for planting three trees per acre by the occupier of a land (Section 3 of the Trees Act) and the penalty of one rupee per tree (Section 4 of the Trees Act).

The court also ordered all the authorities concerned to publish an annual report detailing the steps taken to expand the forest area and tree plantation campaign in the urban areas.

The authority was further directed to impose a penalty against the relevant officers for omission of their duties, if any, under the respective laws. Action against members of the public under the law for cutting trees was also ordered.

The verdict further stated that the Secretary Cooperative and Registrar Cooperative shall issue directions to the housing societies and authorities for (i) planting at least two trees in the green belt in front of each house.

(ii) Imposing heavy penalties and punishments for cutting the same at least Rs.25,000/- per tree and

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(iii) Monitoring the trees through respective officers of the society/authority. The treatment and maintenance of the trees will be the sole responsibility of the society/authority concerned.

The Punjab Government was also directed to revise and amend such laws where clear direction and command is not entrusted to any authority as under the Punjab Rules of Business, the Secretary Forest, the Secretary of Cooperative and the Local Government etc. have clear mandate to make laws and policies, under Schedule-II of the Punjab Government Rules of Business.

It was noted during the hearing that due to the efforts of the government and other departments, this year massive tree plantation took place. The same or more effort must be done and monitored by the relevant authorities each year through proper book logging and designated officers of the area to count, monitor, manage trees every week and submit report and status of the same to the Head of the authority for publishing in their annual report, the verdict further said.

In my view, if both the federal as well as provincial governments implement the judgements of superior courts in letter and spirit, we won’t need a new climate change policy.

We already have a plethora of laws which have been comprehensively interpreted by superior courts judgements with respect to climate change and environmental impact. What is missing is their implementation.

Therefore, the executive i.e. bureaucracy needs to pull up its socks and implement the orders of the superior courts so the deleterious effects of climate change can be stopped.

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