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Sepa violates rules, holds public hearing.

Byline: Faiza Ilyas

KARACHI -- The Sindh EnvironAmental Protection Agency (Sepa) held a public hearing on Tuesday in contravention of its own rules and regulations and ignored calls from some participants demanding cancellation of the hearing.

Under Sepa rules, a public hearing follows an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of a single project before its commencement.

In this case, however, the department invited public objections on an EIA report pertaining to all big and small surface mining ventures currently operational in nine districts of the province.

The EIA was carried out under an annual development programme (ADP) scheme of the provincial mines and mineral department which plans to 'develop environmental guidelines for the sector in the light of the EIA document and the points raised during the public hearing'.

It remained a mystery for the audience as to why the government chose to ignore its own rules and opted for a public hearing which, the audience was told, was not required for preparing guidelines for any sector.

The study Environmental Impact Assessment of mining activities in various districts in Sindh was conducted by the Environmental Management Consultants (EMC)-Pakistan.

Speaking about the EIA study, chief inspector mines Syed Irshad Ahmed Jilani said that the concept to carry out an EIA of surface mining activities was conceived in 2004 when the federal government, as part of its efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals, asked the provincial government to carry out environmental assessments of mining activities in the province.

'The contract was awarded to a company in this respect which was later cancelled as the company couldn't initiate the process [as] per terms of reference,' he explained, adding that the EIA job was awarded to the EMC later through re-bidding in 2014.

The EIA study, he said, was divided in two phases; Phase 1 comprising districts of Jamshoro, Thatta and Tharparkar, and Phase 2 consisting of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Khairpur, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sanghar and Dadu.

'There was a need for guidelines on environmental safety as the Sindh Mines Act of 1923 lacks this aspect,' he said, adding that recommendations generated through the EIA document and public hearing would be accommodated in the updated version of the law currently being vetted by the law department.

Rs50m for the EIA

The government spent Rs50m on the EIA exercise which, it was pointed out, could easily be carried out through a consultative process by engaging experts of relevant fields.

'The EIA is for a specific project of a particular site. [Under the law] there was no need for this EIA process to prepare guidelines for the sector,' said Dr Waqar Ahmed of Karachi University's Institute of Environmental Studies.

Taking up the same point, Dr S. Raza Ali Gardezi of Citizens for Environment referred to Section 17 of the Sepa Act 2014 according to which 'No proponent of a project shall commence construction or operation unless he has filed with the agency an EIA or IEE'.

Construction activities/mining, however, had been going on without obtaining the EIA approval, he said, adding that the department could have generated a lot of revenue if it had fined operators of these unlawful mining activities.

It was also pointed out in the programme that since the hearing pertained to multiple projects, the department should have opted for a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) under the law.

Senior engineer A.A. Chandani asked about the status of health and safety rules for mine workers which the court had directed to prepare over a year ago.

'If those rules have not been prepared, this public hearing shouldn't be held,' he said.

There was also a concern as to why the department held the hearing of multiple ongoing projects in Karachi only, depriving people of other eight districts of the opportunity to give their feedback on the EIA report.

Replying to stakeholders' concerns, officials of Sepa led by senior director Waqar Hussain Phulpoto and mines and minerals department argued that an EIA was required since public money was involved in the ADP scheme and that there was no provision for SEA when the government decided to carry out an environmental assessment of mining activities.

Questions were raised about the data on compliance with Sepa rules by mine operators and lack of specific data in the EIA report on health damages people had suffered in the nine districts.

Earlier, Mohammad Haseeb of EMC-Pakistan presented some highlights of the EIA study which showed that all mining activities were currently unregulated and most spots had high air pollutant levels.

Miners, it was pointed out, worked in harmful conditions and had no access to basic necessities of life, including clean drinking water.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Date:Jun 19, 2019
Words:865
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