KARACHI: The expensive environmental monitoring stations (EMSs) provided by Japan have been lying nonoperational for the past several years for lack of funds — Rs6 million — for their operation and maintenance, said Sindh environment minister Dr Sikandar Mandhro on Tuesday.

He was responding to queries in the Sindh Assembly during the question hour, pertaining to the environment department.

Answering a question by Pakistan Muslim League-Functional legislator Nusrat Sehar Abbasi regarding the equipment / stations, the minister said that those were a part of an over Rs1.2 billion project, of which Rs973 million was provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the rest by the federal government. The five-year project was launched in 2007 and after 2012 when the project completed, no funds were available to operate the two fixed and a mobile EMSs.

A fixed EMS and a mobile one were at the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) office in Korangi and the other fixed one was at the office of the deputy commissioner (Central) to monitor air quality in the Korangi and SITE industrial areas. Now the government planned to restart those EMSs so that data regarding pollution could be collected and further planning done according to it. An estimated Rs6 million was annually required to maintain and operate the equipment.

Responding to a question by PML-F legislator Mahtab Akbar Rashdi, who had headed Sepa during her government service days, that if the political will required to implement the environmental laws existed, the minister conceded the government’s inability in strict implantation of the environmental laws.

He said that though under the laws industrialists were bound to have treatment plants and release effluents/ emissions from their industries after treatment, very few treatment plants existed.

Recalling her days at Sepa, Ms Rashdi said the government had banned the production of black plastic bags and then with strict implementation of laws ensured that no such bag was produced, so if the government wanted the laws could be implemented. The minister said the government now was planning to bring a new law to the assembly to ban production of non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Responding to a question by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf legislator Samar Ali Khan regarding actions taken against polluting industries, the minister said that hundreds of notices had been sent to such industries to remind them to improve their operations and bring their effluent releases within permissible levels. Regarding the punitive actions taken against polluters, he said 15 cases were pending before the Sindh ombudsman, 32 in the Sindh Environmental Tribunal, 81 in the Sindh High Court and nine in the Supreme Court.

He said that around 70 treatment plants were operational at different industries but thousands other industrial units were operating without treatment plants.

Responding to a question by Mut­tahida Qaumi Movement legislator, Mohammad Hussain, about the amount of untreated sewage going to the sea, the minister said that over 450 million gallons daily (MGD) of untreated sewage, infested with untreated hazardous and toxic industrial effluents, entered the sea from the city. He said that a few civic organizations, including the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), Defence Housing Authority), cantonment boards etc had set up small treatment plants but those were unable to treat the entire sewage load of the city.

He said that after a lapse of many years and waiting for the federal government to provide funds, the KWSB’s huge S III project had been launched with Sindh government funding and after its completion in a few years most of the city’s sewage would be treated before it entered the sea.

PTI legislator Khurram Sherzaman, Seema Zia; Sindh local bodies minister Jam Khan Shoro, PPP legislator Khursheed Junejo, MQM legislators Dilawar Qureshi and Aisha Khatoon also asked questions.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2016