KARACHI: The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency has not yet approved the environmental impact assessment (EIA) study of a coal-fired power plant, ground-breaking of which was performed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at Port Qasim recently.

Sources said getting an EIA approval or NOC from Sepa before initiation of any project was mandatory. The law prescribes heavy fines and prison sentences for violators.

Officials were reluctant to reply to Dawn queries because, according to them, the project was sensitive owing to the presence of the prime minister at its ground-breaking ceremony.

But they agreed that no EIA had been approved as yet and that the ground-breaking was for public consumption only because the government had to show the nation that it had done something before May 11, the day when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and other parties staged anti-government rallies across the country.

The sources said that the EIA of the 660MW power plant, which was being installed jointly by the Power Construction Corporation of China and Al Mirgab Capital of Qatar, had been submitted to Sepa, but it was still being evaluated and the process was not yet complete. Even the most important part of the process, the public hearing, had not yet been held.

They said that Sepa had allowed proponents of the project to organise the ground-breaking ceremony, which was considered to be the formal opening of work on the project without EIA approval or NOC.

The EIA approval, which includes an examination by experts and people living in the vicinity and other stakeholders, besides a public hearing, has been made mandatory before the start of work on the project so that its impact on environment could be assessed.

After going through the EIA process Sepa could approve the EIA and issue an NOC or include certain conditions with the NOC. This must be fulfilled to mitigate the adverse effects, or if the impact on the environment was severe, Sepa could even refuse the issuance of the EIA approval and the NOC. This will require the project either to be relocated to a less sensitive area or to be abandoned.

In reply to Dawn queries, Deputy Manager of Marine Pollution Control Centre of the Environment and Safety Department of Port Qasim, retired Lt Akhtar Javed (PN), said that no work had been carried out on the project yet and only ground-breaking was done by the prime minister.

In reply to another question, he agreed that in a formal sense the ground-breaking was the start of work on the project, particularly when the prime minister had done that.

Giving the background, he said there was tremendous pressure ‘from the above’ that the ceremony / or anything else relating to the start of the project had to be done before May 11 as probably the government wanted to show the people that it was doing something to address the power shortage.

Responding to Dawn queries, Sepa chief Naeem Mughal said that the EIA study of the project had been submitted to the agency and it was under evaluation by experts and other stakeholders. A public hearing on the project was also being planned and most probably it would be held in a few weeks, he added.

He said that owing to the urgency of the project, the proponents had asked for permission to carry out the ground-breaking ceremony. And Sepa obliged. He, however, could not explain the reason for its launch in haste without completing the EIA process, issuance of approval or NOC.