KARACHI: An environmental tribunal has indicted six persons, including the chief of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa), for approving and constructing a multi-storey residential-cum-commercial project in KDA Scheme 33 in violation of environmental laws.

The three-member tribunal, headed by its chairman Nisar Ahmed Shaikh, framed charges against Sepa director general Naeem Ahmed Mughal, former DG Baqaullah Unnar, director Ashiq Ali Langha, deputy director Waris Ali Gabol, builders Muhammad Sami Qureshi and Asad Jahangir on a complaint filed by Dr Syed Raza Ali Gardezi challenging issuance of a no-objection certificate by Sepa for the construction of the high-rise project.

All of them present before the tribunal. They denied charges and opted to contest the case. The tribunal summoned witnesses and adjourned the hearing to Feb 24.

The indictment stated that former DG Unnar, director Langha and Deputy Director Gabol in their capacity as officials of Sepa unlawfully accorded approval under the Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) to Shaz Residency, a commercial-cum-residential project, situated on a two-acre plot in Sector-15-A of KDA Scheme-33 on Feb 22, 2018 in violation of Section 17(2) of the Sindh Environmental Prot­ection Act, 2014 and Regulations 3 and 4 and Schedule-I (3)(2) of the Sepa (Review of Initial Environmental Examination and Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 2014.

Tribunal is hearing plea against issuance of NOC by Sepa for multi-storey building on 9,600 sq-yd plot without EIA

It further stated that the abovementioned Sepa officials committed this act in connivance with Muhammad Sami Qureshi and Asad Jahangir — the owner of M/s Sami Builders, the proponent of the Shaz Residency project, and chief executive officer of M/s Marina Consultancy, respectively — while incumbent DG Mughal being the head of Sepa knowingly failed to perform his statutory duties laid down by Section 21 by failing to issue an Environmental Protection Order and failing to cancel the unlawful approval of Shaz Residency.

It further stated that the ongoing violation was repeatedly brought to the notice of Mr Unnar, Mr Langha and Mr Gabol thrice but they took no action facilitating the construction of the project.

Mr Qureshi and Mr Jahangir, the indictment said, commenced work on the project in violation of the laws in connivance with Sepa officials. Therefore, all of them committed offences punishable under relevant provisions of the laws and are within the cognizance of the tribunal.

The complainant had cited the former and incumbent Sepa officials as well as the proponent of the Shaz Residency project and CEO of M/s Marina Consultancy as respondents.

Complainant’s counsel Farhat Ullah Rasheed argued that the then Sepa chief had granted the IEE approval in respect of Shaz Residency project on Feb 22, 2018 without a public hearing on the impact of the project and without consultation of the relevant department.

He stated that the action was in contravention of the provisions of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014 since any project proposed to be built on a piece of land measuring less than 2,000 square yards required the IEE approval from Sepa.

However, the Shaz Residency project comprising ground-plus 10 floors had been planned and launched on the piece of land measuring 9,600 square yards, which required an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval under the law, instead of the IEE, which was allegedly deliberately not done by the respondents, he added.

He said that the IEE approval granted for the project had been kept inaccessible by Sepa authorities for the general public since it was not being uploaded on the agency’s official website in violation of the relevant provisions of the act and Article 19-A of the Constitution as well as provisions of the Right to Information Act.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022

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