Regulating the cement industry

Some 28 years after the cement industry in Punjab was freed from the seemingly iron-clad regulatory grip of the provincial government, the shutters have again come down on the industry. The objective of the move, at least officially, is to allow the cement industry to function properly and encourage its growth under a legal and administrative regime. Over the course of a year, the provincial authorities have been under growing pressure to regulate the cement industry in the wake of shrill civil society-led protests against environmental degradation caused by development projects. One of the main irritants is the relentless and rampant use of groundwater sources by the cement industry — a routine grouse by the inhabitants of the Salt Range in particular.

Both the apex court and the superior court have endorsed the proposed regulatory measures — approved by a wide spectrum of stakeholders and policymakers, including the mines and minerals department — over the industry. In fact, the courts have in one way or the other helped work out and finalise the measures on account of the environmental concerns raised by members of the civil society. The superior judiciary has also played an instrumental role by withdrawing all injunctions that were given in favour of the cement industry.

The two principal regulators of the industry would include the provincial industries and environment departments but the mines and minerals department would have their role cut out for them such as allowing the use of raw material through mining leases and guaranteeing the reclamation and rehabilitation of mined areas. Cement factories, for instance, would be stopped from quarrying in a new area without full reclamation of the previous damaged area. Industrial obligations would be placed on them.

No fresh cement units would be allowed to operate in the four valleys of the Salt Range. Those already up and running would be asked to move their sustainable water resource to nearby rivers. Other Salt Range areas could accommodate cement factories but these would not be permitted to disturb forest or agricultural land or harm the underground water table in any way.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2018.

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