KARACHI: An environmental tribunal has directed the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) and a private bank to file their respective rejoinders to an appeal against approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for constructing a high-rise commercial building within the vicinity of protected heritage sites on Daud Pota Road.

The three-member tribunal headed by its chairman retired Justice Sadiq Hussain Bhatti directed the counsel for Sepa and the private bank, proponent of the project, to submit their rejoinders till April 28.

An NGO, the Citizens for Better Environment, challenged the grant of approval by Sepa to an EIA report regarding the construction of a private bank’s corporate office.

When the matter came up for hearing, the counsel for Sepa and the bank appeared and requested for time to enable them to file rejoinders to the appeal, if any.

Allowing the request, the tribunal adjourned the hearing till April 28.

The appellant’s counsel submitted that the respondent bank had planned to construct its corporate office on the plot No. 222 having an area of 4,256 square yards on Daud Pota Road.

The proposed project will comprise basement and ground plus 12 upper floors, he added.

The appellant further submitted that the respondent bank had purportedly filed an EIA report of the project to Sepa in compliance with Section 14 of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014.

After preliminary scrutiny, the EIA was placed for public hearing for disclosure of the findings of the report and hearing comments/concerns of the public about the project on Oct 22, 2020, he added.

The tribunal was informed that Sepa had approved the EIA of the proposed project through an order passed on Nov 12, 2020 without considering the objections filed by the appellant and other attendants of the public hearing.

The counsel stated that the appellant in the objection filed with Sepa had pointed out that there were about eight protected heritage sites within the radius of 200 feet of the proposed project, but Sepa said that there was no such sensitive area or cultural heritage within the vicinity of the proposed project.

The protected heritage sites are built over plot Nos. 213, 215, 221-A, 222-A, 223, 244, 245 and 247, he informed the tribunal.

It was contended that the EIA report of the proposed project was allegedly filed by the proponent without seeking a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Sindh culture department.

The EIA report itself admitted that the Antiquities Act, 1975 and Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act, 1994 were directly related to the subject, but the proponent of the project failed to provide any justification for not obtaining a prior NOC from the culture department.

The counsel submitted that Regulation 9(2)(c ) of the 2014 Regulations required filing of an NOC from the relevant department along with an EIA, adding that Section 22 of the Antiquities Act, 1975 also required obtaining of such an NOC prior to the construction of any project within 200-ft-radius of an immovable antiquity.

Impleading the Sepa director general, secretary of the culture, heritage & antiquities department and a private bank through its chief executive officer as respondents, the appellant pleaded to the tribunal to restrain the private bank, its officers and agents from commencing construction on the proposed project.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2021

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