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KARACHI: The Supreme Court-mandated commission on water and sanitation took exception to the absence of Defence Housing Authority officials on Tuesday and summoned the defence secretary on May 21 over disposal of untreated sewage into the sea.

The head of the commission, retired SC Justice Amir Hani Muslim, deplored that despite clear directives at a previous hearing, the DHA officials did not turn up and the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) was shifting responsibility onto the DHA.

On May 8, Justice Muslim had directed the DHA officials to file the original plan of DHA and details of the operational and planned sewage treatment plants after he noticed four points around Seaview beach where untreated sewage was allowed to fall into the sea, polluting the beach. He had also asked an official of the Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) to collect samples from all the four points for an analysis after the DHA officials insisted that it was not sewage but storm-drain water.

‘Restaurants at Seaview and Do Darya have no mechanism for lifting solid or liquid waste’

At the outset of the hearing on Tuesday, nobody turned up from the DHA except its lawyer, who remained unable to respond to any question asked by the commission, and submitted an evasive report, the commission said.

Dr Ghulam Murtaza of the PCRWR submitted his report, which was alarming and had direct bearing on lives of people visiting the beach as the DHA and the CBC were draining contaminated (sewerage) water directly into the sea.

Additional attorney general Salman Talibuddin informed the commission that the DHA and the CBC had been taking contradictory stands, adding that the DHA was the developing agency and it was the responsibility of the DHA to develop land catering to all civic needs. It is also bound to plan sectors in a manner which helped residents get clean water and proper sewerage facilities, inclusive of treatment plants.

On the other hand, the CBC contended that once a sector was developed they took over the sector, operated it and managed their municipal responsibilities by collecting the conservancy charge and other related issues.

The commission said it appeared that the DHA had avoided submitting the details though the issue was related to human lives and under Article 9 of the Constitution it was the fundamental right of every citizen to enjoy life.

All the federal and provincial authorities and civic agencies of the country were constitutionally bound to help the citizens enjoy their lives by providing clean potable water with proper hygienic atmosphere.

However, Justice Muslim observed that the DHA and the CBC on the contrary had made the lives of picnickers visiting Seaview miserable by draining untreated liquid into the sea through different drains.

He further said that the restaurants leased out and constructed at Seaview and Do Darya had no mechanism for lifting solid or liquid waste, which was also drained directly into the sea from recreational spots as the report of samples collected by Dr Murtaza showed contamination.

In these circumstances, where the DHA officials have not come forward and the CBC was shifting responsibility onto the DHA, the commission said it was constrained to issue notice to the defence secretary to appear in person and justify that how the DHA and the CBC, which were under the administrative control of the ministry of defence, could play with the lives of citizens under their laws in defiance of the Constitution.

While asking the defence secretary to turn up on May 21, the commission also directed him to explain which law permitted these civic agencies to drain untreated sewage directly into the sea which was injurious to health and hazardous to marine life.

Justice Muslim again directed Dr Murtaza to revisit the different areas of Seaview with a senior officer of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency and collect samples from all points where sewage was being drained into the sea.

He said the commission was constituted under the order of the Supreme Court with the objective to ensure that clean water was provided to the public, while proper drainage system and lifting of municipal solid waste and medical waste were provided for.

The commission warned: “If the secretary defence fails to appear, the commission will file reference to the honourable Supreme Court for taking appropriate action against those who have defeated the directives of the commission”.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2018