Despite needed appointments, environmental tribunal yet to begin functioning
KARACHI: The Sindh Environmental Tribunal, set up to hear complaints about pollution, has yet to start functioning even though the much-delayed appointment of its chairman and members had been made over three months ago, it emerged on Tuesday.
Since the environment has become a provincial subject after the 18th constitutional amendment, the Sindh government set up the tribunal in April 2015 under Section 25 of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014 and appointed retired Justice Nasir Mohammad Sheikh its chairman and Mohammad Arif, a prosecutor at an accountably court, and Mushtaq Ali Memon, a retired civil servant, legal and technical members, respectively.
Earlier, an environmental tribunal for Sindh was in place under the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (Pepa), 1997, and it had been dysfunctional since July 2012 for lack of quorum.
The tribunal, set up by the provincial government, is still unable to start working since the authorities have yet to find a place to house it while the fate of the much-delayed 13 complaints and four appeals, pending before the now defunct environmental tribunal set up by the federal government, is uncertain as the record and proceedings of complaints/appeals are still gathering dust at the old forum.
Initially, the federal government had established an environmental tribunal for the province under Pepa, which was made for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation, and improvement of the environment, prevention and control of pollution and promotion of sustainable development.
The tribunal, which was set up in Karachi, had become non-functional in July 2012 after the expiry of the contract of its chairperson while the post of member (technical) that had fallen vacant in July 2010 and legal member in June 2013 also remained unfilled.
Though a district and sessions judge was appointed chairperson of the environmental tribunal for three years in July 2013, the appointment could not make the tribunal functional for want of two members.
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”.
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.
Formerly, it was the federal law ministry’s responsibility to appoint members of the tribunal. However, after the 18th constitutional amendment it was a subject of the provincial government, which took too long to finalise the legal work and legislation in this regard.
The provincial assembly passed the environmental bill in February 2014, but the provincial authorities made an extended delay in framing procedural rules for the tribunal and then to appoint chairman and members.
Initially, the office of the now defunct tribunal was set up in Phase-V of the Defence Housing Authority and then it was moved to Gulistan-i-Jauhar near the Met Office in the middle of 2013 but since it was not an easily accessible place, the tribunal office was moved into a portion of the State Life Building on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road.
Now, the same portion is being used to house a special court recently established by the federal government for Sindh under the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014 while officials said that efforts were being made to get a proper place to accommodate the office of the environmental tribunal.
They further said that dozens of new complaints, made during the last three years, were set to be admitted for hearing when the tribunal would become functional.