The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be an autonomous, legally independent entity, Supreme Court Justice Husnu Al Suood said on Wednesday.

In a ruling that quashed the interim stay order by the High Court, which had halted dredging at Gulhifalhu, Justice Suood said it was difficult for the courts to decide on such cases due to a lack of scientific expertise in the Maldives. The case was filed at the courts by environmental activist Humaida Abdul Ghafoor, seeking to prevent irreparable harm to the marine environment due to dredging and reclamation.

The Justice noted that while the original case was still ongoing at the lower court, dredging at the area in contention had already been completed, thus negating the practicality of an interim order.

A strategic assessment should be conducted at state level to prevent similar actions, he said.

“The purpose of such an assessment should be to study all the land, lagoons, and wildlife within the entire state territory and identify areas that need to be protected for future generations,” Suood said.

Justice Suood said such an assessment is also needed to determine where land will be dredged for the development of the country, as well as other projects by the state that will affect the environment.

“I also believe that such a national strategic environmental assessment should be conducted to give life to Article 22 of the Constitution,” the Justice said.

The implementation of such a policy is mandated under Article 22 of the Constitution to conduct the necessary studies, identify the impact of projects on the environment, and ensure that steps are taken to mitigate the impact, if any, and study the changes observed upon completion of projects.

“In order to do this, I think it is incumbent upon the state to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency is financially and resourcefully able to fulfil its obligations and to give them the necessary legal independence and autonomy… And I am of the view that the state’s green tax should be allocated to resource this agency,” Suood said.

Justice Suood noted that the state receives a large amount of revenue as green tax every year — the state received around MVR 1 billion in green taxes last year, yet no specific portion is allocated to the EPA.