Clifton beach development project poses serious environmental risks, experts warn

05 Jul 2020

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Construction work in progress at Clifton beach.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Construction work in progress at Clifton beach.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: The development project currently being executed by the Clifton Cantonment Board (CCB) poses serious environmental risks and would deprive the people of their “fundamental right to free access to the beach”, experts and civil society activists have said.

The project was approved by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) in February, without a detailed environmental impact assessment, which deprived citizens of a lawful opportunity to participate in the project review process.

Planned to be spread over 20.89 acres, the project entails the development of one-kilometre-long stretch of the Seaview beach from Nishan-i-Pakistan to the Chunky Monkey amusement park located in DHA Phase V (extension).

The facilities to be built include two beach decks, a jogging track, fountains, monuments, restaurants and tuck shops, hawkers and streets stalls, a children’s play area, two public piazzas of 2.5 acres each, green areas spread over 13.5 acres and watchtowers.

‘The project will deprive people of free access to the beach’

“It’s a recipe for an ecological disaster as large concrete structures along the coastline have shown to impact sea’s hydrological dynamics, causing loss of natural land and increasing the risk for erosion and vulnerability to inundation. They also magnify the impact of extreme weather events and natural disasters,” said senior director at World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan Rab Nawaz. Factors such as climate change and environmental degradation compounded those risks, he added.

He said coastal development should only involve environment-friendly and low-impact structures. He also referred to some coastal development projects in Balochistan and said they would degrade water quality and have an adverse impact on marine species in the long run.

Sedimentation of beach

Talking about coastal dynamics, Dr Asif Inam, former director general of the National Institute of Oceanography, said the Clifton beach was experiencing rapid sedimentation mainly due to the material dredged from the Deep Sea Container Terminal (built by the Karachi Port Trust).

“And, what’s causing accretion of dredged material along the beach is the (natural) process of longshore sediment transport occurring from the west of Clifton to its east.

“Any structure or development along the Clifton beach obstructing this process would result in accumulation of sediments on the western side and erosion on the eastern side of the structure,” he said, adding that it might also have an impact on the adjoining creek and delta.

Studies conducted by various institutions, he pointed out, had shown that Pakistan’s coast was going to face a lot of issues due to sea level rise and increased frequency of cyclones/storm surge.

Dr Inam was a bit sceptical about the sewage treatment plant planned in the project and said untreated sewage being released in the vicinity for the last several years had severely deteriorated water quality and bathing/exposure to seawater was likely to harm humans.

“It appears that the development plan has a provision for [a] sewage treatment plant. But, we all know the history and effectiveness of all sewage plants in Karachi,” he noted.

Fundamental right

Senior lawyer Zubair Abro regretted that public places were being taken over in the name of development. “Recently, a part of Zamzama Park has been turned into a parking plaza and now this project at Seaview. These activities are in defiance of the Sindh High Court’s judgement in the Muhammad Tariq Abbasi case. In this case, decided in 2007, the court held that free access to the beach was a fundamental right of every citizen under the Public Trust Doctrine.”

He argued that the public — the primary stakeholders in the project — should have been involved in the venture through the environmental impact assessment review process.

“But, unfortunately, the project was approved by Sepa under the Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) rules without any justification. The project, in fact, falls in category I (4) of the schedule II of Sepa (Review of IEE & EIA) Regulations, 2014,” he said.

He described categorisation of the project in Schedule I as against the principle set by the Sindh High Court in the DHA versus Federation of Pakistan (Bahria Town Clifton Flyover case).

“In that particular case, the court held that the environmental law is a beneficial legislation enacted for the welfare of the public at large. Therefore, it’s important that an EIA is done and the public is heard even if a project seems to be falling in both environmental schedules.”

‘Project an eyewash’

Concerns over the project were also raised at a recent meeting of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Pakistan. The issue was brought to the attention of the IUCN national committee members by Amra Javed of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment.

“The Clifton beach is the only source of relaxation and recreation for a majority of Karachiites and this project would deprive the public of free access to the beach. There was no transparency in the project approval process and what Sepa did was an eyewash,” said Ms Javed when contacted by Dawn.

In Sepa’s defence, director general of the agency Naeem Mughal said the project neither violated citizens’ rights nor posed any environmental risks as “the project won’t be built inside the seawater and the area was devoid of any ecologically important flora and fauna.

“Rather, this project would upgrade the beach, which currently stinks with polluted water. The public would have better recreational facilities with no entry fee to the project site, which would allow the general public to have free access to the beach. There is no threat of marine pollution as the project would have a sewage treatment plant.”

When asked how Sepa would ensure that the treatment facility would work when the entire untreated sewage of the city, including that of the DHA, discharged into the sea, he said: “It’s a different matter. We are following this and have written many letters to the DHA on this subject”.

The department, he said, would closely watch progress of the project and was ready to make relevant individuals and organisations part of its monitoring team.

About Sepa’s decision to grant approval to the project under the IEE rules, he said it’s a small project of just one kilometre.

A CCB spokesperson declined to reply to any queries, insisting that the project had Sepa’s approval and the environmental department should be contacted in that regard.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2020