MIRPUR (AJK) : President of Azad Jammu & Kashmir Sardar Muhammad Masood Khan said here on Saturday that the under-construction gigantic China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – the CPEC project will open new vistas of speedy socio economic progress and prosperity bringing the economic revolution in Pakistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir.
“Azad Jammu & Kashmir State would also be the beneficiary of the gigantic project since four projects have been approved under CPEC – including Kohala and Karot Hydropower projects respectively in Muzaffarabad and Kotli districts, the Quadruple M Expressway from Mansehra to Muzaffarabad-to Mirpur to Mangla and a Special Economic Industrial Zone to be set up in Mirpur” , the President disclosed while speaking as chief guest while inaugurating a day-long seminar titled ‘Mainstreaming Environment in CPEC Projects’ – Special Economic Zone Mirpur at local hotel Mirpur Grand Regency this afternoon.
The grand ceremony was hosted by the state-run AJK Environmental Projection Agency (EPA) with the coordination of local private-sector organization running hydro power project.
AJK Minister for Sports and Culture Ch. Muhammad Saeed, Additional Chief Secretary and Director General Environmental Protection Agency AJK Dr. Asif Shah, Secretary Industries AJK Govt. Raja Amjad Pervez Ali Khan, Deputy Director EPA Mirpur division Sardar Idrees Mahmood, Representative of the a local private sector hydro power project and others.
The ceremony was largely attended by the experts from various state-run and public representative organizations and institutions including Vice Chancellor Mirpur University of Science & Technology (MUST) Prof. Dr. Habib ur Rehman, seasoned academicians from MUST varsity – Prof. Dr. Rehana Asghar and Dr. Khaleeque Ahmed, Heads of Science and Business administration depts. respectively, Member AJK Legislative Assembly from Treasury Benches Col. (Retd) Waqar Noor, Director General PID AJK Raja Azhar Iqbal, President AJK Lawyers Environmental Forum Khalid Yousaf Advocate, President AJK Environmental Journalist Forum Altaf Hamid Rao, Station Director AK Radio Mirpur / FM 101, Member Governing Body for state-run AJK – based Medical Colleges Dr. Amin Chaudhry, Presidents of various factions of Traders organizations including Ch. Muhammad Naeem and Sohail Shujah Mujahid and others.
Highlighting the broad-based healthy prospects of the arrival of CPEC in Azad Jammu & Kashmir President Masood continued that CPEC in AJK would not only be an opportunity for infrastructure development, energy and industry but also a catalyst for promoting ecotourism and establishing biological and wildlife corridors. Biodiversity sites along the Corridor will be preserved and developed.
He said “Azad Kashmir is ideal for eco-tourism because that too is an emerging industry. It is our responsibility to preserve our natural habitats with as much seriousness as we pursue industrialization”. “We are also striving to get a tourism corridor included in the framework of CPEC”, he added.
AJK, the President said, is also conscious of the environmental aspects of the four projects approved under the CPEC.
He admitted the fact that there were environmental challenges in AJK, which, he added, need to be addressed – industrial and vehicular emissions would increase; farmlands will be affected; and water would be used on a massive scale during construction and industrial development.
“The five-dam Indus Cascade being developed under CPEC will have environmental consequences but they need not be adverse. Mitigation measures should be taken simultaneously. Large water reservoirs upstream can help regulate water flows and water supply downstream and make them predictable”, the President said.
Masood Khan revealed that AJK was building its own cascades down the Jhelum, Neelam and Poonch Rivers and their tributaries. The construction of the Neelum-Jhelum, Jagran, Patrind, Kohala, Mahal, Azad Pattan, Karot and Gulpur hydropower projects will start an energy revolution. These projects would also throw up environmental challenges that it would be necessary to transform these challenges into opportunities, he emphasized.
The AJK President disclosed that the Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor had decided in its meeting on December 31, last year in Beijing, that out of the nine industrial zones to be established under CPEC, one would be set up in Mirpur. This would be a truly historic watershed and a big avenue to huge opening for Azad Jammu Kashmir’s economy which would stimulate industrial growth and make Azad Kashmir an economic engine for manufacturing and exports, he added.
With the advent of the proposed Mirpur special economic industrial zone as an economic hub, Azad Jammu Kashmir would tap into the professional and technological experience of Chinese and Pakistani entrepreneurs, President Masood said.
Referring to the impending environmental impact of the industrial zone, the President said “let us be candid”. He said that all industrial projects have environmental costs. “Under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and its affiliate – CPEC – China has undertaken to provide advanced and sophisticated technologies. The Governments of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir too would diligently make sure that this zone does not cause environmental degradation and in fact meets the highest environmental standards”, he added.
The government, President said, was exploring clean energy options in AJK. “Solar energy consumption is gaining ground and it is also necessary to identify wind corridors for generation of wind power or developing solar-wind hybrids”, he recealed.
“Precautions would be taken in the survey of roads that should avoid landslides and unnecessary disruption of forests and wildlife. Cutting down of trees for building roads should be accompanied by proportionate and, in fact, surplus a forestation”, he underlined.
Masood Khan further said that mainstreaming environment in the CPEC entails effective monitoring and oversight; and in this regard government regulators, civil society and the media should play an active role. From time to time, independent evaluation of environmental impact should also be commissioned, while keeping in mind that infrastructure development and self-sufficiency in energy are imperative for Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, he said.
The AJK President said that the State Government has focused its due energies on developing requisite capacities, refining guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment under the relevant legislation. EIAs, however, should be conducted more regularly and rigorously.
The AJK government, he said, is in the initial phase of designing the zone in Mirpur and we can make environment a keystone for it and other CPEC projects to follow. “The CPEC projects in Azad Kashmir will be made sustainable both economically and environmentally. We need modern industrial infrastructure but it should also be conceived and implemented with the environmental impact in mind”, he added.
The President said “while taking all necessary measures, we should not paint an environmental doomsday scenario in Azad Kashmir. Azad Kashmir would project a confident image of a state that will be able to proactively resolve the issues related to raising an industrial zone. These include industrial and hazardous waste management and disposal, solid waste management in general, water treatment, emission control, and socio-economic impact of the zone on the population of Mirpur and adjoining areas.
Sardar Masood said that self-evident that economic development and environmental protection are closely linked. In modern day planning, the two cannot and should not be separated. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should therefore be integrated into all development projects. There should be no two opinions about this, he suggested.
He pointed out that eve before the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2013, Pakistan needed to embrace green and environment friendly technologies. With a construction boom, urbanization and industrialization, biodiversity in Pakistan was at risk, he said
He recalled that October 2005 deadly earthquake and the 2010 floods had shown fragility of our ecosystems as well as their vulnerability to natural disasters. “But the awareness levels, response and preparedness and strategies to deal with climate change were not up to speed”, he observed.
The President emphasized the need of highlighting, adequately, the concrete measures which have been taken by Chinese and Pakistani planners and their corporate entities to incorporate environmental dimensions in CPEC’s land and marine projects.
He called for focusing to achieve the objectives of the project which we will have to develop an overall environment-friendly culture. “The AJK Government, he said, is fully committed to doing so”, he added.
The President congratulated the AJK Environmental Protection Agency and Laraib Energy for bringing all stakeholders together in the pre-design or the design phase of Mirpur’s special economic zone (SEZ). This was indeed a laudable initiative and due diligence, he concluded. Ends