Fate of 16 pollution cases hangs in the balance
By: Ishaq Tanoli
KARACHI: The fate of 16 complaints against suspected environmental polluters hangs in the balance as the lone environmental protection tribunal set up in Sindh has not been functional for around six months, it emerged on Sunday.
Sources said the tenure of the last chairperson of the Sindh Environmental Protection Tribunal expired in July and the vacated post had not yet been filled.
They said the tribunal had already been without a technical member for about two and a half years. Environmental protection tribunals comprising a chairman and two members (legal and technical) were established in the country under the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (Pepa), 1997.
The act was promulgated for the protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of the environment, prevention and control of pollution and promotion of sustainable development.The Sindh Environmental Protection Tribunal, which was set up in Karachi, became non-functional in the early days of July after the expiry of the contract of its chairperson Ashraf Jahan.
However, the authorities concerned took no steps for the appointment of a new chairman to get the tribunal functional, the sources added. Sixteen complaints had been pending trial before the tribunal while a number of new complaints were likely to be filed for trial soon, they added.
According to the law, the chairman of the tribunal should be a person who is qualified to be appointed a judge of the high court. The federal government appoints two members and at least one of them has to be a technical member with suitable professional qualifications and experience in environment studies.
The authorities concerned also remained unable to fill the technical member post that had fallen vacant after the contract of Dr Samiuzzaman expired in July 2010.
The sources said that although the legal member of the tribunal, Abdul Karim Memon, was still working, he could not hear complaints under the law, as Section 20 (3) of Pepa, 1997 says: “For every sitting of the environmental tribunal, the presence of the chairperson and not less than one member shall be necessary”.
They said it was the responsibility of the law ministry to move a summary to the high court concerned for the appointment of a district and sessions judge as the chairman of the tribunal.
They added that the federal environmental protection agency had sent a letter to the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) around a year back asking it to recommend a name for the technical member.
However, no progress was made in this regard since some quarters had strongly criticised the move and said that it would be unfair and against the interest of justice if Sepa recommended a member, as it was complainant in most of the complaints pending trial before the tribunal. Legal experts believe that a delay in a trial usually benefits the defence side and express grave concerns over the non-functional tribunal.
The non-functional tribunal might encourage violations of environmental laws, they say, adding that the absence of the technical member for such an extended period would be against the principle of natural justice.