KARACHI: The Sindh environmental protection tribunal has directed the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency to communicate to the Sindh Building Control Authority that no high-rise construction project be approved without obtaining the agency’s approval for the projects’ initial environmental examination and environmental impact assessment in terms of Section 17(1) of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014.
The three-member tribunal, headed by its chairman retired Justice Sadiq Hussain Bhatti, also directed Sepa that if the SBCA or any of its officers gave the go-ahead for the construction of any such project in contravention of any provision of the act, they should be prosecuted by Sepa for such a violation “as an accomplice of the violator” under the provisions of the act.
The chairman further directed the director general of Sepa to submit monthly statements regarding the Initial Environmental Examination/Environmental Impact Assessment, as required under Section 17(1) of the act, to the tribunal for its approval.
Convict pleads guilty, but claims ignorance of law about environmental assessment
The tribunal also asked the office to communicate this order to all concerned for information, compliance and submission of the report within three months.
The tribunal that also comprised Mohammad Arif Khan and Abdul Rauf Memon as its members legal and technical, respectively, passed these directives after hearing final arguments from assistant prosecutor general Khan Mohammad Bhangwar and Abdul Malik, assistant director/investigating officer and Shoaib-ul-Islam, the owner/chief executive officer of a high-rise housing project named Famous Tower located on plot B-153, Block-H of North Nazimabad.
The tribunal also convicted him for violation of Section 17(1) of the Sindh Environmental Project Act 2014, imposing a fine of Rs100,000 on him under Section 22(1) of the act. The Sepa DG was directed to conduct an environmental audit and review of the project and submit a final report within three months.
According to the prosecution, Sepa filed a complaint against the convict, who is the owner/chief executive officer of the high-rise building project, alleging that a Sepa team visited the convict’s project on Nov 16, 2017 and found the construction activity in full swing there. However, no approval of the Initial Environmental Examination/Environmental Impact Assessment (IEE/EIA) was obtained from Sepa in violation of Section 17(1) of the act.
It further said that after taking pictures of the construction of the project the team submitted an inspection report to the agency, which subsequently sent notices to the convict on Nov 17 and Nov 29, 2017, respectively. But the owner of the project failed to comply with the directions contained in the notices, thus the agency filed a complaint before the tribunal pleading to take cognizance of the offences committed by the accused and punish him as per law.
In response to a notice issued by the tribunal, accused Shoaib-ul-Islam appeared before it and was given copies of the documentary evidence obtained and material collected by the investigating officer, as required under Section 265-C of the CrPC.
On Oct 18, the tribunal indicted the accused who pleaded guilty to the charges levelled against him by the prosecution. However, the accused said that this was his first project of constructing a high-rise building and he had never been involved in any high-rise building project in any part of Karachi.
He further said that he was not aware of the requirement before the commencement of the construction that the proponent of the project had to file an IEE/EIA report before the agency and that the proponent should commence his project only after approval by the agency. He further deposed that he believed that the SBCA was the only authority which approved housing projects and building plans in the entire province, adding that the person concerned in the authority had directed him to get a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Civil Aviation Authority with respect to the height of the project, which he did and submitted it to the SBCA to get approval of the project.
He categorically submitted that during the process of approval of his project, the SBCA never asked him to submit any approval from Sepa and that the SBCA did not inform him that before the commencement of the work on the project getting approval of the IEE/EIA was a mandatory requirement of the law and that he should obtain the same or failure to do so was a punishable offence under the environmental protection laws.
The accused also submitted that he had not received any verbal or written communication in any form from any official of Sepa nor was he or the project’s site visited by any of its officials during the two-year period of construction, except that two officials after its completion demanded an IEE of the project for the first time from the watchman present there.
After hearing the accused, assistant prosecutor general Bhangwar and Sepa assistant director Abdul Malik, the tribunal members noted that the Environmental Protection Orders were issued by Sepa after completion of the construction phase of the subject building project, adding that there was nothing on record that the SBCA or Sepa had ever directed the accused to file IEE/EIA with the agency before the commencement of construction.
They observed that the SBCA’s relevant person could have directed the present accused to obtain an IEE/EIA report from Sepa during the process of approval of the building plan, but for the reason best known to them, they kept mum in that regard and allowed the violation of the act to happen.
The tribunal further observed that it could not be ascertained at the present stage whether it was ignorance or negligence on the part of the SBCA or its officer concerned, who approved a building plan without requiring the accused to submit an IEE/EIA report and seek approval of the same from Sepa, which resulted in a violation of the act.
Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018