Sepa violating law: forest dept
KARACHI: The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) is violating government rules of business by ignoring the forest department in the assessment process of development projects as well as at the stage of granting them approval, said a key official of the forest department on Tuesday.
He was speaking to Dawn against the backdrop of a recent public hearing organised by Sepa to discuss a proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal project, which entails cutting down of at least 889 mangroves. The coastal forests are protected under the law.
The project proposed by the Pakistan Gas Port Limited is to be built in the Chara Chan Waddio creek and located in the Port Qasim area. Under the project, 4.5 million tonnes of LNG would be imported annually and a 600m long pipeline would pass through mangroves.
“The forest department has not been taken on board in planning and execution of development activities in the Port Qasim area. Instead, Sepa is allowing environmental impact assessment (EIA) of projects and issuing no-objection certificates without involving the department, which is a violation of rules of business,” said conservator mangroves, Karachi, Agha Tahir.
Replying to a question as to how his department has reacted to these violations, he said: “The forest department has reported incidents of mangrove cutting in the Port Qasim area to the quarters concerned. Worthy members of the provincial assembly were also taken to the relevant sites.”
According to him, the department’s technical expertise should be utilised in the assessment of environmental impacts on mangroves due to development activities.
“Specific areas can be earmarked for development of various infrastructures without jeopardising the health and existence of mangroves. Further, the mitigation measures based on internationally accepted standards may be recommended to compensate the damages expected from the development activities,” he recommended.
It may be recalled here that Sepa had violated its own rules by holding the public hearing on the LNG project as the project’s EIA report lacked a mandatory no-objection certificate from the forest department (as the venture has been planned in a forest area).
Moreover, no forest department official had been invited to the public hearing so that people in attendance could directly communicate their reservations to the department concerned over the destruction of 889 mangroves the proposed project entailed.
“Every Initial Environmental Examination and Environmental Impact Assessment shall be accompanied by no-objection certificates from relevant departments in case of an EIA report,” says Section 9 of the Sepa Regulations 2014.
The entire mangrove cover in the province was declared protected in Dec 2010. Besides, the country is signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals; SDG 14 states that it is required to take measures for marine coastal ecosystems’ conservation and protection.
It also came as a shock to the participants that the environmental watchdog had held the public hearing of a project awaiting final decision on its site.
To concerns over mangrove cutting and the absence of a forest department official at the hearing, Sepa officials argued that the project wouldn’t be approved without the forest department’s consent.
It was also reasoned that mangrove plantation would be carried out on a large scale to compensate for the forest loss.
Mangrove cover, according to experts, is fast reducing in the province. In one instance in 2014, mangrove forests were destroyed on a large area for construction of a coal-fired power plant in the Port Qasim area.
The private company, which removed mangroves without taking approval from the forest department and getting Sepa’s nod for the project, was allowed to continue the project by the government.