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Uncertainty surrounds trial of pollution cases

August 19, 2012

KARACHI, Aug 19: The fate of more than a dozen complaints regarding pollution hangs in the balance, with the Sindh Environmental Protection Tribunal not yet having resumed working following the expiry of its chairperson’s contract last month, it emerged on Sunday.

Besides, the tribunal has already been without a technical member for over two years.

The environmental protection tribunals comprising a chairman and two members (legal and technical) were established in the country under Section 20 of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (Pepa), which was promulgated in 1997 for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation, and improvement of the environment, prevention and control of pollution and promotion of sustainable development.

Sindh’s lone tribunal, which was set up in Karachi, stopped working in the early days of July after the expiry of the contract of its chairperson, Ashraf Jahan.

The trial of 14 complaints has been pending before the tribunal while compliance reports on the verdicts issued by the tribunal in five other complaints are yet to be filed, sources said.

They added that over a dozen of new complaints were likely to be filed in the tribunal for trial soon.

Under the law, the tribunal comprises a chairman, who is qualified for appointment as a judge of the high court, and two members to be appointed by the federal government and at least one shall be a technical member with suitable professional qualifications and experience in environment studies.

The authorities concerned did not fill the post that had fallen vacant after the contract of last technical member Dr Samiuzzaman expired on July 10, 2010, neither did they appoint a new chairperson over the past one month, the sources said.

Although the legal member of the tribunal, Abdul Karim Memon, is still working, he cannot hear complaints under the law, as Section 20 (3) of Pepa says: “For every sitting of the environmental tribunal, the presence of the chairperson and not less than one member shall be necessary”.

The sources said that it was the federal law ministry responsibility to move a summary to the high court for the appointment of a district and sessions judge as chairman of the tribunal.

Legal experts said it was believed that a delay in a trial usually benefited the defence side and damaged the case of prosecution.

Expressing serious concerns over non-functional tribunal and the absence of technical member for over two years, they apprehended that the non-functional tribunal might encourage violations of environmental laws.

The legal experts said both the last chairperson and legal member had a legal background while the nature of complaints they tried was technical. In this situation, some technical questions must have come up during the proceedings, they said, adding that the absence of technical member for such an extended period would be against the principle of natural justice.