Sepa approval of KPT’s coal handling operation fails to address public concerns

Published May 25, 2015
Representatives expressed concerns that terminal was being run in midst of a populated area without any safety measures. -Reuters/File
Representatives expressed concerns that terminal was being run in midst of a populated area without any safety measures. -Reuters/File

KARACHI: The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency’s (Sepa) recent approval of two separate Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports on the coal terminal being operated by the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) fails to take into account serious concerns over the damage it has already caused to public health and environment, it emerged on Sunday.

Though environmental laws call for an EIA to be carried out at the planning stage of a project, the EIAs in this case have been conducted after 12 years of coal handling operation at the port and that too on court orders.

One of the EIA was submitted by the KPT and the other by the Awan Trading Company Private Limited, a major coal importer at the port.

At the public hearing on the KPT’s coal terminal held in February, experts and community representatives of Kaemari, especially Shireen Jinnah Colony and nearby islands, had expressed serious concerns over the coal terminal which, they said, was being run in the midst of a populated area without any safety measures in place.

They also spoke of the misery and enormous losses people had suffered over the years on account of illnesses, livelihood and environmental destruction caused by coal dust emissions during unloading of coal from ships, its transportation and dumping in an open ground used as a storage facility.

It was also pointed out at the public hearing that according to one EIA report, particulate matter (PM2.5), a major air pollutant in the coal dust, was found to be in higher concentration in at least seven selected sites.

The approval documents of Sepa, however, make no mention of any penalty (against the KPT for violating environmental laws and starting the project without seeking approval from the department) or directives to the organisation to compensate the public for damaging their health.

It also lacks citing measures that the KPT needs to take to rehabilitate the environment.

According to Section 22 (1) of Sindh EPA law 2014,“whoever contravenes or fails to comply with the provisions of sections 11, 17, 18 and 21 (that relate to carrying out a project without carrying out an EIA/seeking departmental approval and violating other environmental laws) or any order issued there under shall be punishable with a fine which may extend to five million rupees, to the damage caused to environment and in the case of a continuing contravention or failure, with an additional fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees for every day during which such contravention or failure continues.”

A reading of the approval documents shows that it only addresses concerns relating to the present status and future operations of the coal terminal. No specific timeline has been given to achieve the targets while there is a big question mark over the capacity of the government department and the powers it has to ensure implementation of its own decisions.

Approval conditions

The environmental agency has made its approvals (given to the KPT and Awan Trading Company) subject to a series of conditions, for instance meeting the national and provincial environmental quality standards on ambient air quality, noise, industrial emissions, waste-water and drinking water.

The KPT, being the port authority, has also been asked to provide clear-cut guidelines to coal handlers and provide them with adequate infrastructure facilities including water sprinkling system, firefighting arrangements and windshields.

“The KPT shall be liable to submit monthly progress reports to Sindh EPA through a reputable third party consultant. It must ensure that all trucks leaving the storage yard are showered with adequate water and are completely covered with tarpaulin or any other effective measure/device and also that trucks are not overloaded as well as there is no spillage during coal transportation,” the approval document says.

It also calls upon the KPT to minimise coal storage in the yard and that the coal storage should not exceed 200,000 tons by maintaining the height of stockpiles not more than five metres.

“All engineering control measures including covered conveyer belts, mechanised loading and unloading etc shall be provided in addition to measures recommended for curbing pollution.

“It must ensure continuous air quality monitoring to check concentration of particulate matter in the surrounding of coal yard through an environmental certified laboratory and submit its report to Sindh EPA to check compliance of air quality standards.”

One of the most important clauses in the papers relate to the environmental management plan (EMP); Sepa has directed KPT to bind all importers, contractors and end-users of coal to submit their EMPs separately in order to address all issues of coal handling, from unloading to transportation, within the jurisdiction of Sindh.

It directs the KPT to engage an independent environmental monitoring body to ensure monitoring of the project’s compliance with the EMP and to document the status of the project with respect to environment at the end of every month. The report would be submitted to chairman KPT and Sepa.

It also addresses concerns over occupational safety and asks the KPT to adopt a complete code of health, safety and environment at the workplace.

When contacted, director general of Sepa, Naeem Mughal, agreed that the approval documents should have contained measures aimed at compensating the public for the damages caused to their health and rehabilitating the environment.

“We didn’t make these steps part of this approval because we believe that it’s a different issue and needed to be dealt with separately. The department will see how the damage cost could be determined and relevant steps could be taken after consulting experts on this issue,” he said.

On time span required for implementation, he said that it was understood that the organisation needed to start work on the steps mentioned in the approval document as soon as it received it.

“Earlier, we were unaware of the coal terminal’s operation and also the matter was sub judice. But now when the organisation has got the approval, the matter will be legally pursued if the organisation fails to implement the measures it has been asked to adopt,” he said while justifying Sepa’s decision not to impose any penalty on KPT.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2015

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