The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday held its first hearing of the challenge to the Ravi Urban Development Authority’s (RUDA’s) environment impact assessment (EIA) of the River Ravi Urban Development Project. RUDA is undertaking the development of over 100,000 acres of land along 40 kilometers of the riverbank and floodplain of the River Ravi. The RUDA project involves channelisation of the Ravi and the use of land acquisition to convert thousands of acres of agricultural land for commercial residential use. The Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan (PILAP) has challenged the EIA, which has been prepared on behalf of RUDA by Engineering Consultancy Services Punjab (Private) Limited (ECSP). The Punjab Environmental Protection (Registration of Environmental Consultants) Regulations, 2017 protects the fundamental rights of citizens by ensuring environmental assessments such as EIAs are prepared by environmental consultants registered with the EPA, Punjab. PILAP has challenged the EIA for the RUDA Project on the grounds that ECSP is not a registered environmental consultant and that the EPA, Punjab should therefore be restrained from reviewing the EIA. PILAP maintains that an EIA prepared by a non-registered consultant compromises citizens’ fundamental rights. The Lahore High Court (LHC) allowed the EPA, Punjab to continue with the public hearing of the EIA of the project scheduled for 20 February 2021 but restrained it from passing any final order on approving or otherwise the EIA of the RUDA Project until the final determination of the case. Civil society members have also expressed deep concern about the public hearings of EIA. Although as per Regulation 11 of IEE/EPA regulations which stipulates all decision making will take into account comments received by the pubic, the comments are not taken into consideration making public hearing useless. In the past EIAs were approved by regulators and the courts gave verdicts precisely on the basis of the regulatory authority’s approval. There has been an instance on record when an EIA that was submitted for the Signal free Corridor was in fact a cut and paste job taken from a EIA of a Chicken Hatchery which had left references to regular cleaning of chicken feed intact in the recommendations section. This is an indication of the poor quality of EIA’s prepared by unregistered consultants. After poor quality EIAs were exposed in the proceedings in the Signal Free Corridor and Orange Train proceedings the EPA passed regulations requiring registration of consultants. However since then EPA has not passed any guidelines for registration, nor have any consultants been registered. Subsequently NAB charge sheeted officials of EPA for illegal use of authority in its judgment against M/s Ali traders Waste Management company. However, despite this charge sheet the officials continue to be in service in EPA. It was precisely on this issue that the petition by PILAP was challenged in Thursday’s hearing in the court of Justice Shams Mahmood Mirza. The court has ordered that public hearing can take place but has restrained EPA from passing any orders or approval on the EIA of the Ruda Project. The matter was adjourned for further arguments in two weeks.