Save Kirthar National Park
In July 1997, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum (Directorate General of Petroleum Concessions) Government of Pakistan, granted the Dumbar Block Exploration License to Premier Exploration Pakistan Ltd.(later merged with Shell Group to form the Premier-Shell B.V Group). This was reaffirmed by a notification of the federal government of this concession.
The Dumbar Block encompasses more than 90% of the Kirthar National Park, which enjoys 'Protected Area Status'. The Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972, Section 15 prohibits "clearing or breaking up any land for cultivation, mining or for any other purposes". Similarly, a notification of the Sindh Government issued in January 1997, bans mining activities in national parks.
Kirthar National Park is a protected area of 308,733 hectares situated in Sindh province, 80 miles north of Karachi (capital of Sindh Province), Pakistan. Kirthar is home to the unique sub-species of Sindh ibex. The urial and the chinkara gazelle also reside in the park, along with 27 other species of mammals, various families of reptiles and at least 58 species of birds. Historically, the area is of prime importance, with the largest of the world's historic forts (Rannikot) and archaeological sites dating back to 3500 B.C. An area of outstanding scenic beauty, it is populated by local tribal communities, numbering at least 16,000 people (in 1989).
Kirthar was designated a national park by the Sindh Wildlife Department in 1974, the first of Pakistan's parks to be included in the UN's listing of National Parks of 1975. In addition, Kirthar qualifies for the strict criteria fixed by IUCN for a Category II protected area, designated mainly for ecosystem preservation, and its status as a national park has been reaffirmed in the 1997 UN listing of protected areas. Kirthar was first in the public eye due to the proposed construction of a national highway in 1991. Active involvement of civil society, resulted in a rapid assessment of the serious damage this project might have on the ecology of the national park. The highway was finally routed around the national park, rather than through it, as a result of constant efforts by environmental groups. In addition to being home to a variety of wildlife, Kirthar Park also serves as the watershed of the Hub River. Hub River is an important source of drinking water for Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan. In addition, water from Hub River is utilized by a large number of industries and is also used for agricultural purposes.
As the Dumbar Block encompasses more than 90% of Kirthar National Park, and the Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) is responsible for the area's management, the department approached the members of IUCN Pakistan in a meeting in August 1997 to assist in this case. Thus started a process of dialogue between the Government and the environmental groups.
In January 1999, Premier Exploration merged with Shell Oil internationally for their on-shore exploration activKIRTHAR NATIONAL PARK THE WATERSHED FOR THE HUB RIVERities, and the joint venture of Premier and Shell Pakistan B.V. was formed. In May 1999, this matter was taken before the Governor of Sindh, who constituted a high-level committee (chaired now by the Chief Secretary, Sindh) to address the issue and take action.This is known as the Dumbar EL Committee.
The committee's terms of reference (TOR) included the intent to "suggest such amendments / modifications in the existing law, rules and regulations as would facilitate conduct of seismic survey and related operations for oil and gas in the protected areas, including Kirthar National Park." IUCN, WWF, Sindh Wildlife Department, Directorate General Petroleum Concessions, Sindh Environmental Protection Agency and Premier Exploration Pakistan Ltd. were all invited to sit on this committee.
The ImpasseCurrently, there is inadequate scientific information about the park, as the last full survey of the park was conducted in 1974 when it was notified. Environmental organisations believe that detailed information is needed on which management decisions can be based. This should emanate from an in-depth study of the park, following which a management plan should be formulated. The nature of an in-depth study should be different from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) originally suggested by the Ministry of Petroleum and the joint venture. The EIA proposed, contains baseline information, but moves on to assessing the possible environmental (and social) impacts of the activity - exploration and mining for oil and gas. It is, thus, specific to the activity and therefore shall be deemed as an illegal act as the subject project is illegal in the presence of the existing legislation. Conversely, the study has to be an in-depth analysis of the park - its ecological and social status as a protected area, regardless of any "development" activity. This study (an independent analysis) should then form the basis of a management plan for the park.
The joint venture, is keen to proceed with exploration activities, after a delay of over two years. They have assured the government and environmentalists that they would contribute to the management of the park and also abide by the framework of suggestions given by the EIA. However, environmental groups found this inadequate, and varied in their opposition to the project. Some demanded that the exploration license be rescinded, and the provincial conservation law be upheld. Others pressed for the in-depth (baseline) study, followed by a management plan, all to be monitored by an independent body made up of stakeholders.
The BreakthroughDialogues of the joint venture with IUCN Pakistan ultimately led to an agreement: the companies in principle, agreed to fund a baseline study of the park. The study is now being conducted by an independent consultant, Hawthorn Consulting Group of the University of Melbourne. Based on the findings of this study, a decision was supposed to have been taken on whether or not to proceed with the EIA in specific zones that do not compromise the integrity and status of ecologically sensitive spots of the park. This activity to be complemented by the formulation and implementation of a park management plan, regardless of any future development activity or otherwise.
The purpose of the twelve-month study was identified as to indicate the extent, status and importance of biological diversity in the park and particularly sensitive ecological areas. It was also supposed to give suggestions about possible uses of the park in the context of sustainability. The TOR for the study were finalised in a multi-stakeholder workshop, in January 2000.
The following main decisions were taken and commitments made by the official project partners in the TOR consultative workshop.
A decision and recommendation on the EIA process for the proposed gas exploation project in the park, could only be made after complete results of the baseline study are released and deliberated upton by all the relevant stake holders. A Project Steering Committee (PSC), including all the stakeholder groups would be formed to monitor and ensure the integrity and transparency of the Baseline Study. The PSC would play a pivotal role in the Baseline Study, right from giving approval of project personnel to the clearance of bills and finances. A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) would be formed to evaluate the technical aspects of the project and would report to the PSC.
Since the TOR workshop, the following developments have taken place.
The Baseline Study is in full swing. According to official reports, most of the data collection process has been completed and the field data is presently being evaluated back in Australia.
The Sindh Govt. through its representative department, the Sindh Wildlife Dept. signed the contract, only after 70% of the study had been completed. This fact puts in serious doubt, the very validity and the integrity of the study. The PSC, which was supposed to play a vital and significant role in the Baseline Study, has not even been notified as yet. Who is ensuring the transparency of the whole process?
In complete disregard to the solemn pledge made in the TOR workshop, the EIA process for the proposed gas exploration project has been activated in parallel to the Baseline Study.
Not even the final draft of the Baseline Study TOR has been provided to the citizen representatives.In addition, the results of the Baseline Study are also not being shared with the public.
This project is setting a dangerous precedent in the efforts to preserve the natural environment in Pakistan and receiving negative press. It seems that an honest effort on the part of the citizen groups and environmental activists in Pakistan to develop a mutually cooperative and harmonious relationship on the subject of development and conservation is in serious danger of falling completely apart.
Protecting the Integrity of the Kirthar Baseline Study (KBS)
It was decided in the TOR Workshop (Jan 21-22) that in order to monitor and ensure the integrity of the KBS, a Project Steering Committee (PSC) would be formed, including all the relevant stakeholder groups. The PSC would play a pivotal role in the conduct of the KBS, right from giving approval of project personnel to the clearance of bills and finances.
However, to this date, the PSC has not been convened and the TOR's have not been circulated among the stakeholder groups and the Govt. of Sindh has only just recently signed the KBS contract, after " 70 percent", of the KBS has been completed.
All these unfortunate happenings have raised serious doubts about the transparency and integrity of the whole process, as contrary to the commitments made by the Govt. of Sindh, the stakeholders have been precluded from the process.
In order to address this situation, it is recommended that a PSC with credible stakeholder participation is formed and convened. The KBS is put on a hold, and meanwhile, the PSC is given the responsibility of reviewing all the management, technical and financial decisions and processes undertaken so far. If such decisions and processes are found to be compatible with the finalized TOR of the KBS, only then, the KBS should be allowed to continue. However, before convening the PSC, the finalized TOR be circulated among the stakeholder groups, and its results shared with the public.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
A decision and recommendation on the EIA process for the proposed gas exploration project in the park, could only be made after complete results of the baseline study are released and deliberated upon by all the relevant stake holders
It has now been reported that the Govt. of Pakistan has awarded, Agra Earth Environmental, a Canadian consulting firm the work of conducting EIA, starting September 2000. This is a serious breach of trust and an open disregard to all moral and ethical considerations. The attempt on the part of the government to somehow link the Baseline Study with the EIA and calling the EIA a "pre eia", is ridiculous, deplorable and an insult to the sensitivities of all serious stakeholder groups. We cannot allow for an EIA, unless it fulfills the requirements as set out in the discussions held during the TOR workshop.
It would be an illegal act, as an EIA is a specific project related activity and the present relevant Govt. of Sindh legislation prohibits such a project.
It would be an immoral act, as it puts to ridicule the solemn and public pledge and commitment made by the Govt. of Sindh.
In the end, we would like to state that the issue of integrity and transparency of the whole exercise is critical, to ensuring an amicable solution to this issue. The fact that the concession was granted by the Federal Govt. without even bothering to consult the provincial govt. is a clear indication that involvement of the relevant stakeholder groups, has never been a top priority concern.