KARACHI: There was a huge outcry at a public hearing held on Tuesday against the 60-storey Bahria Icon Tower being constructed in Clifton and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation-Bahria management’s incomplete traffic improvement plan at the site that stakeholders demanded be taken up by the administration on an urgent basis and the dug-up holes filled within 10 days.
Most people from the emotionally charged audience rejected the environment impact assessment report (EIA) and said that the document attempted to justify the traffic plan instead of taking an independent view of the situation.
The plan comprising a flyover and two underpasses, they said, violated heritage laws as it encroached upon a heritage site (Jehangir Kothari Parade) and would greatly damage historical infrastructures (Sri Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple and Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazar) in the vicinity.
The Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) had organised the event in the historical KMC building on M.A. Jinnah Road to record public concerns over the EIA report on the ‘Grade separated traffic improvement plan from Park Tower Intersection to A.T. Naqvi Roundabout’, a project aimed at addressing emerging traffic concerns at Bahria Icon Tower estimated to cost Rs1.8bn.
The traffic plan has been designed by E.A Consulting whereas the EIA report is prepared by the Environmental Management Consultants (EMC) on the KMC’s request.
It is worth mentioning that the EIA report has been prepared on the order of the court that had earlier issued a stay order against the construction of underpasses and a flyover after being approached by the DHA. Later, the Bahria management left the project halfway through, asking the area residents to contact city or provincial government or the DHA in case of any complaint. Since then, the incomplete project with dug-up roads and trenches has been a source of great public inconvenience.
An Initial Environment Examination (IEE) of the traffic plan had been done earlier and was duly approved by Sepa.
The programme opened with detailed presentations on the traffic improvement plan by representatives of consultant companies, Syed Nadeem Arif and Saquib Ejaz Hussain of EMC and S.M. Tayyeb of E.A. Consulting, respectively.
According to them, the provision of a flyover and underpasses in the plan would not only considerably ease traffic congestion at the site and surrounding arteries, but would also reduce noise and environment pollution levels. The project provided facilities for four bus-bays, a pedestrian bridge and sufficient parking space, they said.
They were of the view that considerable land had been excavated and if the project was not taken up immediately, serious damage could occur in case of rain especially to historical sites like the temple that, they said, existed on a ridge.
Early completion of the project, they informed the audience, was also necessary to prevent further losses to people who had invested in the area. The EIA team, he said, also met the temple management and it told the team that little damage had occurred to the site during construction for the flyover and underpasses.
“All stakeholders were consulted on the project and we found no one opposing it. In fact, people wanted early completion of the project,” said Saquib Ejaz Hussain of the EMC.
The entire area of Defence and Clifton, he said, was seismologically active and it had a history of earthquakes.
“This vulnerability has extensively increased with massive land reclamation being done by the DHA,” he pointed out, adding that the DHA and the KMC both needed to implement the master plan for a successful implementation of traffic improvement plan.
With presentations over, the hearing descended into chaos as many people stood up and started speaking at the same time. A member from the audience asked the Sepa director general to vacate the seat he was sitting in as he was a civil servant and the chair was historically reserved for a mayor.
The KMC should be ashamed of itself for letting this happen, he said while criticising the EMC for praising the KMC instead of presenting an independent view.
A number of speakers vehemently rejected consultants’ assertion that all stakeholders were on board on the traffic plan and said that residents, the Hindu community, public representatives and DHA-based non-government organisations were not contacted.
They severely criticised Sepa for approving Bahria Icon Tower, the traffic improvement plan and a number of other projects relating to high-rises that, they said, would add to the problems the DHA residents were already facing.
Highlighting flaws in the report, it was said that it neither identified environmental issues to be created due to implementation of traffic plan nor specified measures. The plan, they said, lacked a water drainage system.
They also questioned the claims about spending huge amounts on alternative routes and said that no relief had been provided to road users.
The Jehangir Kothari Parade pavilion was 300 feet long and had been mercilessly cut by the project developers, which was a criminal offence, the participants in the hearing were told.
“We have sent many letters to the chief secretary who heads the heritage committee but so far have received no reply. Legal action should be taken against those who violated the law,” said Roland D’Souza of Shehri for Better Environment, a non-governmental organisation.
There was also concern that the government was not paying attention to basic issues being faced in DHA and Clifton like water shortage but was rather more interested in making money through construction of flyovers and underpasses.
Giving his remarks, Sepa DG Naeem Ahmed Mughal said that he personally believed that there was a need for such a traffic improvement plan given the fact that traffic volume would increase with DHA phase eight on the cards.
“The law doesn’t stop us from development. Our job is to reduce possible harmful impact of a project. An expert committee, however, will take a decision on the EIA report,” he said.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd , 2014