Former caretaker prime minister Balakh Sher Mazari passed away earlier this month. Besides our friendship around the Punjab Club, I will always remember him as the prime minister who, in 1993, held the first meeting of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Council (PEPC).
That meeting adopted, in my presence, the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) for Pakistan for the first time; a pioneering step towards implementation of the then applicable Pakistan Environmental Protection Ordinance, 1983, which was subsequently replaced by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997.
The 1983 ordinance established the PEPC and required it to hold at least two meetings each year. The president of Pakistan was the president of the council under the 1983 Ordinance. As the draftsman of the ordinance, I had included this requirement following the experience of the Philippines where president Ferdinand Marcos, as the head of the Philippines Environmental Protection Council, had led several environmental initiatives.
I was appointed a member of the PEPC in 1983 (and continue to date), and because there was a statutory requirement provided in the 1983 ordinance for the council to hold at least two meetings every year, I wrote to Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the president of the council, to hold such a meeting.
His office contacted me and informed that it was against the ‘protocol’ to ask the president of Pakistan to call a statutory meeting. My reply was that I was not requesting the president of Pakistan, but the president of the PEPC. But this distinction was not appreciated.
The council was established in 1983, and, despite the statutory requirement, it did not meet for 10 years. In the meantime, the office of the head of the council got changed from the office of the president of Pakistan to that of the prime minister.
It was against this background that we environmentalists welcomed the holding of the first meeting of the council in 1993 on the directions of caretaker prime minister Balakh Sher Mazari.
As we mourn the death of a distinguished political leader, I thought of expressing my personal gratitude to the man for having kick-started the nation’s journey towards having a better environment.
The NEQS, which, following the 18th Amendment, has led to the establishment of Provincial Environmental Quality Standards (PEQS), was first adopted with his dynamic initiative and support.
Those standards continue even today and form the backbone of the national and provincial environmental regimes.
DR PARVEZ HASSAN