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KARACHI: The Port Qasim Authority (PQA) needs to publicly share the federally-approved and gazetted copy of its master plan as well as the (recent) study which assessed the cumulative effects of the industrial projects coming up in its jurisdiction. This is critical to ensure human and environmental safety in current circumstances and future.

In the absence of a master plan document, any development that takes place in the Port Qasim area lacks legal validity as per sections 10 and 11 of the Port Qasim Act 1973.

These concerns were raised at a public hearing organised on Thursday at a local hotel by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa). The hearing pertained to an integrated LNG project proposed by Tabeer Energy Private Ltd, a wholly owned affiliate of the Mitsubishi Corporation.

Hearing seeks details of LNG project

The $300 million project planned within the recently demarcated LNG zone at Chhan Waddo-Chara Creek envisioned removal of mangroves spread over an estimated nine hectares (22.239 acres).

“They are very much part of the forest covering an area of 64,000 hectares which was declared protected in 1950s in Port Qasim. While the protected status of these mangroves hasn’t changed, we have issued a no-objection certificate to the project proponent on some conditions and will ensure their compliance in collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature,” explained conservator forest Riaz Waggan at the hearing.

These conditions, he pointed out, included plantation of mangroves over 1,000 hectares in an area to be identified by the forest department and investing about Rs40m in mangrove sustainability and management.

“They are required to look after these mangroves for at least a decade. In addition, they are required to spend Rs40m on community welfare projects,” he said, informing the audience that the conditions were put forward after the forest department assessed the value and economic benefits of the mangroves which would be affected by the project.

It’s the first time that the forest department had been taken on board by any project proponent, he told the audience, suggesting that the forest department had never granted any NOC for mangrove destruction/removal and any developer who had done this in the past violated the law.

Mr Waggan, however, called for transparency and emphasised that the PQA must share its master plan with government departments including the forest department so environmentally safe decisions could be made.

“We want to know what kind of projects are already there and details of those being planned so that we could make the right decisions.

“If we allow one company to remove mangroves over 10 hectares on the condition that it would carry out a major mangrove plantation and sustainability drive and help support poor communities, it’s not a bad development option.”

Where is cumulative impact study?

An important concern raised multiple times at public hearings was related to the need for a cumulative impact study given the fact that the area of Port Qasim is being heavily industrialised. Lately, at one such meeting, it was disclosed that such a study did exist but was never shared by PQA at any public forum.

Replying to a question related to this matter, director general of Sepa Naeem Mughal said: “This matter has been raised at hearings and now the department will take this up in writing. Also, the PQA doesn’t share its master plan. We want to know how many LNG terminals are being planned in the specific zone and where the (federally-administered) PQA is acquiring land from. Often, the land they leased out to companies is said to be reclaimed.”

Mr Mughal, however, couldn’t give a satisfactory reply when asked to explain as to why the department had raised the Sindh Environmental Quality Standards of PM2.5 (an extremely harmful air pollutant) to 75µg/m3 (24-hour mean) whereas the international guidelines stipulated that PM2.5 should not exceed 10µg/m3 (annual mean), or 25µg/m3 (24-hour mean).

He reasoned that the decision to change this specific standard was taken with the help of air quality experts at the time when Jamshoro power plant was being planned in 1990s.

“We found that the PM2.5 levels were already high and same is the case in other parts of interior of Sindh. No development activity could take place if we continued with the old standard on this particulate matter,” he said, adding that the old European standards couldn’t be applied in the local environment without review.

He didn’t reply to the question when asked whether the department carried any health impact study after deviating from international standards.

Questions were also raised about the validity of air ambient quality test findings shared during the hearing, possible environmental damage during laying the gas pipeline and increase in port traffic, an apparent lack of input from fishermen communities on projects being planned in Port Qasim, waste discharge into the sea and disposal of dredging material.

Earlier, the programme began with detailed presentations on the project given by Saquib Ejaz Hussain representing the Environmental Management Consultants, which carried out the environmental and social impact study of the project. Francis Frei, Koshu Fujita, Stefano Cappellozza and Lenardo Ciulla all provided technical support to the project.

According to them, multiple studies/tests were carried out to choose the site to minimise damage to the environment and make the project safe. The first phase will see the project capacity handling and processing 750MMFCD of gas supplies as a base load and 1,000MMFCD as peak gas out; the second phase will be subject to market demand, regulatory permissions and commercial alignment.

The project proponent estimated to offload approximately 100 cargo parcels per year from LNG cargo vessels onto a floating storage and re-gasification unit.

All relevant local and international guidelines would be followed during the construction phase and after terminal’s operation.

The dredged material would be disposed of from mangrove area into a coffer dam or other alternatives to avoid displacement in the creeks, it was stated.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2019