Environmental concerns raised over $220m Red Line BRT project

Published October 17, 2018
A SECTION of the Green Line BRT project. While the scheme is yet to be made operational by the government, the authorities are now planning to introduce another mass transit project.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A SECTION of the Green Line BRT project. While the scheme is yet to be made operational by the government, the authorities are now planning to introduce another mass transit project.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: At a time when work on two major transport projects — Green Line and Edhi Line — in the city has already been delayed, the Sindh government presented the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of a third mass transit project — Red Line — at a public hearing on Tuesday.

Despite several commitments the 22km-long federally-funded Green Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is yet to be made operational while construction on the Sindh government-funded Edhi Line is continuing at a snail’s pace, causing a lot of inconvenience to commuters in the absence of proper traffic diversions and poor condition of existing track.

The public hearing was organised by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) at a local hotel. The EIA report prepared by Mott-MacDonald Ltd and MM Pakistan, the joint project consultants, pertained to phase one of the Red Line project involving its detailed engineering design, procurement and construction management.

A major concern raised during the hearing pertained to an estimated 23,693 trees currently existing along the proposed Red Line. A large number of these would be uprooted, according to the details shared during the hearing, some would be transplanted and, if forest department’s suggestion was followed, around 300 indigenous trees would be spared.

The project proponent, the Sindh transport and mass transit department, however, promised to ‘compensate’ the loss by planting more trees.

The EIA report does not include any details of traffic management plan

The over 23km-long Red Line running contiguous with M.A. Jinnah Road, University Road, Malir Cantonment link road and M.A Jinnah Avenue in the north-eastern sector of Karachi crosses districts Central, East and Malir Cantonment.

The estimate cost of the project is about $220 million and it would be financed largely through the Asian Development Bank with 25pc government equity.

‘No timeline’

A number of concerns shared during the hearing were rooted in public fears in the face of the government’s poor performance especially in road projects which are often launched without putting in place measures to ensure that the public is least disturbed and environment remains protected.

There was repeated specific reference to the present traffic mess at Numaish traffic intersection and a question was raised about how the government would handle the future traffic situation as it planned to integrate five BRT lines at this point, calling for a cumulative impact study.

The EIA report did not include any details of a traffic management plan and many critical areas, for instance, noise pollution and disposal of solid waste during the construction phase, had been left to the contractor who would be required to make on-site management plans.

“There should be a traffic plan showing how the general public would be facilitated during project’s construction as the Red Line also passes through busy thoroughfares, including University Road,” remarked Engineer A.A. Chandani.

The audience was told that a traffic management plan was being developed.

Zahid Farooq of the Urban Resource Centre showed concern over the fact that the recently repaired University Road would again be dug up to make way for the Red Line. “A waste of public resources, indeed,” he remarked.

Surprisingly, no time frame or duration for the project’s completion was mentioned in the EIA report, raising concern whether the data presented in the report would remain relevant when the project would finally take off.

“The EIA study is based on the environmental impact over a certain period of time. If that period is stretched over its initial duration of study, the environmental impact is multiplied exponentially. This undermines the reliability of the data and the mitigating measures of the Environment Management Plan (EMP)”, said Dr Raza Gardezi representing non-governmental organisation Citizens for Environment.

Continuing on the same point, he also questioned the project’s financial viability if strict timeline would not be followed and said that it would not only adversely affect its sustainability but also increase environmental impact manifold.

“No business plan is submitted by the proponent, explaining what will be operational and maintenance costs of the project and how the loan will be paid back,” he said, adding that no fare costing had been given in the report.

Highlighting another flaw in the EIA report, he said it was not just Quaid’s mausoleum that was a protected site but the entire surrounding park, “all the way to the boundary is a protected heritage site” and this protection extended to 200 feet beyond the limits within which no construction could take place as per the heritage act.

There were a couple of heritage buildings which could be affected by the project whose efficacy should have been thoroughly examined, he said.

NOCs from utilities

The project proponent could not present any no-objection certificates from any utility agency, though officials representing the transport and mass transit department maintained that all utilities were very much on board.

Consultants described concerns over possible damages to water and sewerage lines as misplaced since construction during the project would not go deep down.

Earlier, Tim Whittington, an environmental expert who authored the report, presented the key findings of the EIA report according to which the project was compliant with the Sindh government and ADB policies concerning environment, social impact, resettlement and compensation and local administration.

“Greenhouse emissions are likely to be reduced by removing vehicles from the roadway. However, data is insufficient at present to substantiate the supposition. In general, BRT has been shown to lead to reduced emissions of primary pollutants,” he said.

Referring to a recent Supreme Court ruling under which uprooting of trees had been prohibited, Saquib Ejaz Hussain said that uprooting of more than 23,000 trees would negatively affect the city’s climate.

Senior director Sepa Waqar Hussain Phulpoto assured the stakeholders that the department would protect public interest and ensure that all mandatory conditions were met before it received the government approval.

He showed annoyance over the absence of any high-level transport department official at the public hearing.

Abdul Aziz and Mohammad Ali Sheeshmahal represented the government.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2018

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