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KARACHI: Raising concern over a recent public hearing, experts on Saturday called upon the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) not to violate its own law and conduct the public hearing of a project at a site where maximum number of people likely to be affected by the project could participate.

They were referring to a project proposed to be built in Karachi but whose public hearing on its EIA (environmental impact assessment) report was held in Hyderabad last month. The project proponent was Lucky Cement. “There was no justification for holding the public hearing in Hyderabad. Sepa violated its own law by depriving the public of their right to participate in the hearing and raise their concerns that the department needed to record and address under the law,” said environmental lawyer Zubair Ahmed Abro.

The 2014 regulations required that a public hearing be held in the area affected by the project, which in this case was Malir district in Karachi, he added. He pointed out that there were discrepancies in the relevant EIA report, for instance, the distance from Edhi Village to the project site was mentioned thrice differently in the report whereas the names of stakeholders that might have been consulted during the EIA process were not revealed in the report.

“The project land was owned by the forest department but transferred to the project proponent through a de-notification process as stated in the EIA report but a copy of the de-notification was not attached to the EIA report, which was available on Sepa’s website,” he said, regretting that many people like him didn’t get the opportunity to raise these concerns since the hearing was held in Hyderabad.

Engineer A.A. Chandani, a seasoned professional, also part of Sepa’s expert committee, said: “Not a single stakeholder of the area could attend the hearing in Hyderabad. Earlier, Sepa held public hearing of a Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) project in Nawabshah, though the project is to be executed in four districts fell within the jurisdiction of Hyderabad division.

The PPL project involved the districts of Jamshoro, Matiari, Tando Mohammad Khan, Thatta, all falling in Hyderabad division, he said.

“If public hearings pertaining to Thar coal exploration could be held at the site, why couldn’t Sepa adopt a similar strategy for other projects?” he said.

Justifying Sepa’s actions, deputy director Sepa Imran Sabir explained that the point where the boundary wall of Lucky Cement factory ended fell in Jamshoro district.

“All villages near the project site are located in the Jamshoro district, which is part of Hyderabad division where the public hearing was held. Besides, the project’s impact would likely to be towards Hyderabad/Jamshoro side because of wind direction.”

However, he said that Sepa could consider holding a public hearing in Karachi, too, if an application was sent to the departmental head.

“A number of relevant stakeholders attended the public hearing,” he claimed.

On the PPL project, he said that the project was spread over protected and non-protected areas. “We organised a hearing of the project site located in the protected area whereas the non-protected areas were covered through an initial environmental examination. Since the protected area was located towards Nawabshah, the public hearing was held in that district.”

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2017