Pollution of air, water and land are nothing new to man. In England, in the 13th century, air pollution due to the burning of domestic fuel and deterioration of air quality became an environmental issue which by the 19th century had reached a crisis point. King Edward I (1272-1307) decreed that the burning of sea coal, a particularly dirty kind of coal, was illegal. And in the 16th century a violator was even hanged for disobeying this medieval “Clean Air Act”. Much later, while parliament was sitting, Queen Elizabeth I, issued a proclamation that forbade the use of coal.

In the US, following the successful celebration of the first Earth Day, a groundbreaking federal legislation-the US Environmental Agency was established in 1970 preceded by the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act of 1972 , and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

While an act of 1388 prohibited the casting of animal filth and refuse into rivers, like the nuisance in common law, it suffered the same limitations as air pollution. However, it was only after a number of members of the parliament were affected by the Alkali industry in England, that the Nuisances Removal Acts 1855, 1860 and 1863 were introduced and local government was given powers of both inspection and seizure in spite of the clarity of the common law definition of nuisance experienced by the courts.

In Pakistan, on a classical case of Shehla Zia vs Wapda, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared environmental pollution a violation of fundamental rights in 1992.

A few years back, the federal ombudsman directed Lahore’s Faletti’s hotel to have all the trees on the premises registered and not to be felled. Though a number of public bodies such as Environment Protection agencies and tribunals at provincial and federal levels have been working to take care of environmental issues in the country, the enforcement of law appears to have been kept at bay.

Though the Pakistan Environment Protection Act (PEPA) and the Environmental protection agencies at the federal as well as provincial and district levels are in place with rules for monitoring, environmental and hazardous substance sampling, the modalities of their working need to be defined in their true perspective.

While examples of people suffering in the Kasur district as a result of the contamination of drinking and irrigation waters from nearby tanneries are well known, in the environs of Faisalabad city, farmers grow vegetables with water containing effluents from nearby dyeing factories and sewage water which causes of gastroeneritis, hepatitis and cancer. Although the EPD directed some 329 factories in the city to install water treatment plants, only three could carry out the direction. Though environmental tribunals could impose fines up to Rs. 50 lakh over the past two years, the factories have resisted installing water treatment plants. City governments in the country could be empowered to deter activities related to farming around city areas using city effluents and sewage water, and to take to task those responsible for atmospheric pollution.

Awareness about environmental problems and the availability of remedy in the justice system in Pakistan needs to be addressed as well, and introduced into the syllabi in schools, colleges and universities. A diploma course for law graduates on environmental laws conducted for the first time by the GCUF in 2008-9 is a significant case in point.

Though Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit 1992 exhorted almost all signatories of the Kyoto Protocol to limit CO2 emissions, it being non-binding, some thirty new countries have since then emerged as big emitters. Although it is nowhere near the big emitters, Pakistan now faces a much bigger threat of environmental disaster, extinction of biodiversity and socio-economic downfall.

At a conference on the criminal justice system held recently at the GCUF, the failure of the system to deliver was assigned to various economic and socio-political ills of society. A modest, one student-one tree modality introduced by GCUF as part of the students’ curricular activity at the campus and in some city areas in 2010 aimed at creating awareness amongst people about environmental issues and developing tree culture in society. Although emulated also by other institutions elsewhere, it has not been able to find a strong footing in the city. If institutions like the GCUF with some 28,000 students and faculties with a large number of professors, teachers and administrators has misplaced its own initiative, how could a population of 190 million people, 70 percent of which is not yet literate enough to realize the significance of trees as a deterrent to air pollution, recurrent floods, drought, food insecurity, and loss of biodiversity.

The writer is ex- director NIAB, Faisalabad,  ex-professor of environmental sciences GCUF, HEC professor UAF., and former member of  the New York Academy of Sciences, USA. He can be contacted at drahmadsaeedbhatti@gmail.com