LAHORE - Punjab Chief Minister has approved hospital waste management rules 2014 assigning key role to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to supervise and monitor the process of handling and incineration of clinical waste.
While the new rules, likely to be notified in a couple of days, have paved the way for initiation of legal proceedings against the violators, they are still not without lacunas which may create hurdles in achieving the ultimate objective of proper disposal of hazardous waste.
The previous rules, in practice since 2005, authorise officials of Health Department to supervise the process of hospital waste management, from generation to disposal. As EPA Punjab and not the Health Department continued looking after the matter of handling and disposal of clinical waste, violators managed to escape punishment throughout the period. In addition to that, certain clauses of previous rules were contrary to the Punjab Environmental Protection Act 1997 that allowed the violators to escape from punishment. Though Environmental Tribunal gave a number of decisions but not a single one could be implemented due to discrepancies in the previous rules. It was not clear that the cases would be filed under section 14 or section 16. Section 14 authorizes District Officer (DO) Environment and Section 16 Director General (DG) EPA Punjab to file petitions before the Environment Magistrate and Tribunal respectively. The prevailing scenario caused the EPA Punjab to wait for implementation of new rules, resulting into piling up of cases. As per the sources, over 300 cases are pending and these will be filed before the Environmental Tribunal after notification of new rules.
Though the new rules shift the responsibility to the actual stakeholder EPA Punjab, these are not without lacunas that are likely to benefit violators. Instead of clarifying that whether cases of violation will be filed under Section 16 or 14, the relative clause has been removed and as such it is not clear in the new rules that how violators would be proceeded against.
Director Legal EPA Punjab has made only few changes in the previous rules and the same has been forwarded for notification after getting a nod from the Chief Minister Punjab.
In the new rules, authorise officer of EPA Punjab and not the Health Officer will be responsible for inspection of healthcare facility, supervision and monitoring the process of disposal of hazardous clinical waste. The provincial level nine member Hospital Waste Management Committee headed by Secretary Health has been replaced by seven member committees for each district. Concerned District Coordination Officer will head the District Hospital Waste Supervisory Committee while DO Environment will be the Secretary. Interestingly, MPA of the constituency concerned where hospital under review is located will also be a member of the committee. The DO Environment, authorized officer for inspection of health facilities, monitoring and supervision of hospital waste management, will simultaneously report to the DG EPA Punjab and the District Hospital Waste Supervisory Committee for any violation. Not only the EPA but also the committees at district level that has representation of a political figure will intervene and suggest corrective measures or punishment for any violation of rules.