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Environment awareness lacking.

Mehtab Akbar Rashdi, Director General, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Sindh has the honour of being Assistant Professor, Sindh University. Before joining EPA Mehtab was the Secretary Tourism and Culture, Government of Sindh. She is also a crusader of Women's Right. In an exclusive interview with Economic Review renowned Mehtab Rashdi, without mincing words bitterly criticized bureaucracy and the legislators for ignoring environmental issues which occupy top position on civilized-world agenda. She is optimistic about caretakers who emphasized its need. Following are the excerpts:

Economic Review: Environment awareness is lacking in Pakistan and despite tall talks the environmental issues have never been taken up seriously. Your Comment.

Mehtab Akbar Rashdi: I do agree that environment awareness is lacking in Pakistan because little has been done practically in this regard. The reason being that environment never occupied any position on the government agenda. Though Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed at federal and provincial levels but due support was always missing. Bureaucracy and legislators never felt the importance of EPA's and environment issues. Caretaker Prime Minister Mr. Moeen Qureshi is the first chief executive who not only felt the need to address the environment issue but also assured not to compromise over it. Since the matter has been taken up at the highest level bureaucracy, it is hoped, would find it difficult to neglect it anymore.

So far the awareness is concerned there is a considerable change in the attitudes of people regarding the environment problems. People have started paying attention to it in urban areas. The rural areas lag behind because of illiteracy, inadequacy of funds and the passive role of electronic media. EPA has done something in this regard by originating a Radio programme from Karachi, Hyderabad and Khairpur which caters the need of interior Sindh. The feed back is tremendous. Hundreds of letters are being received regularly asking for our assistance. They also volunteered themselves to form some NGO's to carry out the message to the interior part of the Sindh.

ER: What is the format of EPA in Sindh.

MAR: EPA Sindh is an attached department of Ministry of Housing and Town Planning. EPA is basically a monitoring and regulatory body without having the powers of execution, with the Director General being as its head. Other staff comprises of one Director and Seven Assistant Director out of which 4 posts are still vacant because of ban on recruitment. The overall strength of EPA Sindh is about 10. EPA recommends suggestions to various civic agencies of the province for execution. For example collection of solid waste is the responsibility of KMC. If the corporation fails to fulfill its obligation then EPA Sindh will suggest ways and means to dispose of the Solid waste properly. Similarly our Agency can direct an industry to have treatment plant. If it fails EPA may impose penalty clause. EPA collects data on pollution and suggests measure to control it.

ER: What are the achievements of EPA Sindh.

MAR: We achieved a lot in such a shorter span. EPA always felt its responsibility. The glaring example is the incident of toxic waste which was found at Shershah. As soon as it was brought to our notice through a NGO, EPA in collaboration with the local administration supervised the whole operation of the disposal of toxic waste. Another example is the dead fish which was found in abundance near Port Qasim. EPA along with the Port Qasim authorities and IUCN, a NGO, managed the whole operation. I myself travelled in rough sea for five hours, got a sample of the dead fish. After chemical examination the people were informed through newspaper not to use it.

EPA is quite alive to the situation and take every measures to inform civic agencies about such hazards. Our biggest achievement is that now people know that such an agency exists. They come to us with their problems and we try to solve them with the assistance of other organisations. We do admit that we are not working to the full satisfaction of the people because of multiple reasons.

ER: What is the annual budget of EPA Sindh.

MAR: EPA does not have enough funds for its projects. During Jam Government EPA got a special fund of Rs. 2 million. It may be true that government might have some other important issues in hand to look after but it should adopt an integrated approach. The working of other departments like Education, Health and Forest having an environment element should be synchronized to save duplication.

ER: How many studies have you in hand.

MAR: At present we have three studies in hand. One is about Quality Standards, another is on Noise Pollution and the third one is about the Extent of Pollution in Malir and Lyari rivers. These studies are half way done. In a few months we will have a complete report. Apart from these some more studies are in the pipe line. 3 to 5 years are required from suggesting a project till its execution and completion.

ER: Has the private sector been asked to set up environment friendly industries having paper recycling and waste treatment plant.

MAR: Private sector appears keen to cooperate but it needs proper guidance. For example there were 150 Tanneries at Korangi where there was no proper arrangement of the disposal of solid waste. It was at the initiative of the Tanners Association who wanted a common treatment plant to be installed for the treatment of the wastes. Government and the NGO like IUCN worked together. Now one workshop is there to sort-out what kind of treatment plant is to be installed. Now the proposal is under scrutiny. Private sector is coming forward. We are hopeful and expect that this attitude would continue which is necessary to improve and protect the environment.

As far as the industrial wastes are concerned, Environment Protection Council has given three years period to old industrial units to install treatment plants in the units. Those industries which are new or in the pipe line have been given a period of one year to install a treatment plant before it commences commercial production. If these units do not comply with the instruction they would be penalised under the law. Gradually we are taking necessary measures so that they cannot dispose-off their solid or liquid effluent without proper treatment.

ER: An ordinance was promulgated in 1983 and Environment Protection Council was formed in 1984. Will you highlight its performance.

MAR: The council was supposed to meet twice a year. But the first ever meeting of Council was held in 1993 ten years after its promulgation. But it was an important meeting where effluent discharge standards were approved. It was also decided in the meeting that whatever powers the federal EPA is having are be delegated to provincial EPA's. It was done during the previous caretaker government headed by Sher Bulkh Mazari, when Mr. Anwar Saifullah was the Federal Minister for Environment who took personal interest to reactivate the Council. We are quite optimistic about the performance of the Council.

ER: Air pollution and industrial waste are said to be the two main problem. What your organisation is doing in this respect.

MAR: Karachi is the largest city of Pakistan having largest number of vehicles and industrial units. As such its problems are multifold. But we are glad to mention that we have initiated a project namely "Clean Air Karachi Project". We will soon come-up with a study suggesting measures to improve the situation. We are also going to introduce laws binding upon the vehicle owners, so that the faulty vehicles could not ply on roads. Now PCSIR and EPA is operating a Mobile Air Monitoring Lab. in Karachi to monitor the quality of Air. But if we really want the city to be clean and without Air pollution, self-accountability is a must. Secondly rule of law is to be established. There are plenty of laws regarding smoke emitting vehicles with a greater number of traffic force to implement. Quite unfortunately execution of these laws is seen nowhere because of corruption. In the existing scenario no environment law is to work unless it is implemented seriously and sincerely.

ER: A large number of Parks and Gardens are being converted into marriage halls for monetary gains. Have you any plan to overcome such menace.

MAR: This is true that Parks are being used for marriage purposes. Even the grass is not maintained properly. People have an access right to open and green places. We are coming across many instances where people are filing civil suits against such malpractices. Now there is no place for children even the beaches are over crowded. Citizens and NGO's have to play their roles. But it is entirely the responsibility of the Civic Agencies to keep open and green places for public.

ER: Influx of population is towards urban areas from rural areas. What do you suggest in this regard.

MAR: Employment is the only factor which forces the population to migrate from rural to urban centres. Nobody willingly leaves his home town. Government has neglected the rural areas. The only way to stop population influx is to establish Cottage and Agro-based industries along with health and education institution in rural areas.

ER: How do you educate the farmers about the hazardous aspects of indiscriminate pesticide use.

MAR: It is quite true that at present there is an indiscriminate use of pesticides. Over use of pesticides also harms the health of the person spraying it. I hold responsible the agencies who publicize their products on TV and other media. They do not tell them how to use it and in what quantity to use. We have given one project of this nature which will be conducted by Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). There is a component of awareness in it for those who are using it. Normally farmers who use pesticide do not use gloves, masks etc. We should emphasize pesticide dealers to provide education as well to the farmers about its proper use and its hazardous aspects.

Functions of EPA

* Control of water pollution (Lyari, Malir and Indus rivers; and other water bodies, both surface and ground waters), and improvement in rural sanitation;

* Control of air pollution (vehicles and industrial emissions);

* Control of noise pollution (auto-rickshaws, buses, other vehicles, industries, agricultural machinery, etc.);

* Solid waste management;

* Control or marine pollution due to the land-based discharges and oil discharges from sea vessels;

* Control of pollution caused by fertilizers and pesticides;

* Elimination of plastic shopping bags; and control on factories, located in various residential areas of Sindh;

* Monitoring of radiation levels;

* Association with international agencies for the control of global environmental pollution problems (global warming, ozone layer depletion, acid rains, transboundary movements of air pollutants);

* Preservation and conservation of the natural resources in Sindh (forestation, wildlife, mangroves, etc.);

* Public awareness programmes (television, newspapers, radio, seminars, etc.); for public motivation;

* Professional association with Environmental Engineering Division, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, for conducting research on environmental pollution problems in Sindh province;

* Conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) of all new development projects and, for the existing projects as well;

* Conducting environmental studies on major environmental pollution problems in Sindh province; and

* Preparation of plans, programmes, strategies and policies of the state of environment in Sindh;

* Development of the effluent discharge standards for water, air, noise, solid waste, fertilizers, pesticides, radiation, etc. for Sindh province;

* Development of legislation of environmental pollution control;

* Conservation and preservation of natural resources in the Sindh province; and

* Public awareness programmes
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Title Annotation:interview with Pakistani Environmental Protection Agency General Dir. Mehtab Akbar Rashdi
Author:Raza, Moosi
Publication:Economic Review
Article Type:Interview
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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