ADVOCATE Shahab Usto speaks at the seminar on Tuesday.—White Star
ADVOCATE Shahab Usto speaks at the seminar on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: What’s the status of Sindh’s basic utilities and their infrastructure and how far the Supreme Court-mandated water commission had been effective were discussed in detail at a seminar held on Tuesday at a local hotel where the take home message for the audience was that citizens must not hope for improvement in governance if silence remained the norm on persistent bad governance and corruption.

“Use your forum and raise a voice like I did. Unless we all take ownership, the (style) of governance wouldn’t change. I am optimistic because we have seen things moving. If there is a will followed by honesty and hard work, things do change,” noted Shahab Usto, a seasoned advocate whose petition in 2016 led the Supreme Court to establish a commission to investigate the poor state of water and sewage disposal in Sindh.

Titled ‘Management of Water Resources and Way Forward’, the seminar was organised by Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Experts urge state to fix KWSB’s basic administrative problems before investing more funds into it

The programme began with a brief documentary on the performance of the commission during the tenure of retired Justice Amir Hani Muslim (from 14-1-2018 till 15-1-2019).

Earlier, the commission was headed by Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro after it was formed in Dec 2016.

The commission lasted for two years during which it met 274 times and five reports were generated.

According to Mr Usto, corruption, bad governance and absence of accountability for decades have created the prevailing dismal situation in Sindh on which people need to raise their voice.

“If millers, contractors and industrialists could get together for their vested interests, why couldn’t we unite for a just cause? I am committed firmly but need the support of civil society, intelligentsia, academia and the media.”

Ban on high-rises

Criticising the Supreme Court’ judgement of withdrawing the ban on high-rise buildings, he said the order shocked him. “The court continued with the ban for over a year, but then one fine morning we saw that within 15 seconds the court reversed the order without hearing arguments.”

Sharing his observations, the evidences gathered by the commission and the steps initiated by the commission led by retired Justice Muslim, he said that during this time the commission also visited schools and hospitals.

Condition of govt hospitals

“The government itself admitted that almost half of the total 44,000 public-sector schools were being supplied with contaminated water whereas the rest didn’t have any water supply system,” he told the audience, adding that 29 public-sector hospitals in Sindh either didn’t have an incinerator at all or the equipment was lying non-functional.

The commission found that these hospitals were dumping their harmful medical waste, along with non-infectious refuse, in the open. In addition, none of the 33 filter plants, the three waste treatment plants in Karachi and the 2,100 water supply schemes in the whole province were found operating during the visits. Some of these facilities, he said, had been rehabilitated and now were being operated on court’s directives while work was in process to make others functional.

The commission, he pointed out, had given deadlines to sugar cane millers and industrialists to set up treatment plants and he was waiting to see level of their compliance with the orders. The government had also committed to set up landfill sites in each district.

“I believe that if the commission is re-established and is allowed to work for at least two years, the face of Sindh will change. On our part, we must assert ourselves. If we all come together, nobody can ignore us,” he said while committing to file contempt of court petitions in case of non-compliance with court orders.

Mr Usto praised Justice Muslim especially his efforts for getting 130 acres of land, earlier under dispute between the Karachi Port Trust and the government for years, declared state land to be used for a treatment plant and green spaces.

KWSB needs fixing

Giving a presentation on the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), seasoned urban planner Farhan Anwar underscored the need for fixing the basic administrative problems plaguing the utility for decades before investing more funds into it.

“Before investing more, we need to see that whether we received optimal benefits from past water schemes,” he said, hinting at the efforts in the pipeline to get World Bank assistance for KWSB overhauling.

According to him, the biggest challenge, which unfortunately becomes a political issue, is to bring administrative and financial autonomy to the utility in order to run it professionally.

On Karachi’s water crisis, he referred to some data according to which leakages and theft took away almost 40 per cent of the city’s water whereas currently only 53pc of the city’s water needs were being met.

“If this situation continues, we won’t be able to improve the city’s water situation even if K-4 project becomes functional,” he warned, describing political interference as a major barrier to the reform process at the utility.

During the question-answer session, Gulzar Memon, former chief engineer of the KWSB, said: “The rehabilitation process initiated by the commission in 2016 has come to a halt. Currently, no work is under way on treatment plants, filter plants or even the K-4 project.”

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2019


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