Standing their own

The Sindh Wildlife Department is opposing oil exploration in a national park in Pakistan

Published: Thursday 15 January 1998

after being awarded an area including the Kirthar national park in the Sindh province of Pakistan to explore oil, the transnational oil company PremierOil is lobbying to obtain permission to begin oil exploration in the protected area. However, the Sindh Wildlife Department (swd), under the aegis of which the park falls, is maintaining its original position by refusing the company or its consultants to begin work in the protected area.

Contrary to the wishes of the transnational that wants to engage consultants of its own choice, the swd is insisting that non-governmental organisations (ngos) of international repute that have been working for nature conservation, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (iucn) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (wwf), be asked to conduct the environment impact assessment (eia). Participation of such reputed ngos will bring in the much-desired transparency in the entire process, officials of the swd argue.

Shahid Ahmad, the director-general, petroleum concessions (dgpc), in a letter dated November 22 to the government of Sindh, said: "The government granted an exploration licence over the Dumber block in district Dadu and Karachi to Premier Exploration Pakistan after obtaining clearance from the Sindh government... subject to a provision that an eia is carried out by PremierOil over the area to ensure safety, security, preservation, conservation and protection of wildlife and to ensure compliance of wildlife rules. This was reflected in the exploration licence."

Earlier, it was decided that the swd will be contacted to allow PremierOil to conduct an eia, subject to the condition that PremierOil takes full responsibility of safeguarding the environment during the study. Although PremierOil intends to begin the eia , delay in clearance of the agencies concerned is causing unnecessary delays. Ahmad has requested that necessary instructions be issued to the concerned quarters so that PremierOil could start the eia.

PremierOil has assured Malik Asad Sikander, the Sindh wildlife minister, that the eia will be carried out by independent consultants that are acceptable to the president of Pakistan. It has also guaranteed that drilling and detonating of explosives of any kind will not be carried out during the eia. The study will be conducted with the assistance and guidance of wildlife staff and the consultants will abide by the instructions of the swd regarding restrictions or entry to any sensitive areas, PremierOil has promised.

On the other hand, the swd , in its reply to the federal government, said that the federal petroleum ministry, in awarding the concession, had shown ignorance about the protected and legal status of the area falling in the Kirthar national park. The swd says that "the Kirthar national park and its adjoining protected areas, including Mahal Kohistan wildlife sanctuary and a strip of game reserve, are important biodiversity reserves in Sindh". The swd argues that under sections 14 and 15 of the Sindh Wildlife Protection (Amendment) Act-1993, mining and exploration activities are completely banned in the national park and the wildlife sanctuary.

The swd contends that under the given legal obligations, the department is not in favour of allowing an oil exploration company to conduct drilling or other such type of activities. Regarding the eia , the swd says that it "stands by its word and has no objection if the eia is conducted by an independent agency".

Meanwhile, iucn has supported the stand taken by the swd and federal ministry of environment on the issue. It has opposed any exploration activities in a national park and has asserted that as per legislation, mining and exploration activities are illegal in the national park. This is the second time in the recent past that another assault is being made at the Kirthar national park. A few years ago, the government had proposed the construction of the Indus highway, bisecting the park.

ngos had objected to the proposal and following a great deal of media attention on the issue, the foreign donors stopped the funding and asked the government to let an iucn expert conduct an eia . The Canadian expert of the iucn had recommended that the route of the highway be changed. The route was changed and the donors released the funding.

The national park was established to protect the highly endangered species of the Sindh Ibex and Urial. And through conservation efforts of the swd , the number of the Sindh Ibex and Urial have swelled over the years. One of the reasons for the survival of the animals is the remoteness of the area. Once the area is opened to commercial activity and the movement of people in the area increases, the rare animals will be hunted out in no time, conservationists fear.

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