Ongoing construction: Commerce ministry’s reply sought on port’s impact on ecology
KARACHI: The Sindh High Court has issued orders for impleading the federal commerce ministry as party to the proceedings regarding the likely threats to ecology due to the ongoing construction of the multi-billion deep sea port.
A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Nadeem Akhtar, directed the petitioner to file an amended title of the petition, naming the federal commerce ministry as respondent, within four weeks. It also directed the office to issue notice to the newly impleaded party. “Upon failure, the relevant official will be called in person,” the judges cautioned the federal ministry, in case it failed to file comments by the next date of hearing.
Abdul Jabbar Khan, the petitioner, who lives in an apartment complex at the beachfront, claimed that the fundamental rights of the public, particularly the Karachiites, will be violated due to encroachment of Clifton beach. Therefore, in 2012, he filed a petition taking the relevant federal and provincial authorities to the court over the project.
In the petition, he maintained that it is the only beach accessible to the public in Karachi, which is offering recreational and entertainment opportunities. Located about a kilometre off the seashore in front of blocks 1 and 2 of Clifton, the rocks are a natural gift for the safety of humans and wildlife, said Khan. “The rocks play an important role against earthquakes. The lives of millions of people in Karachi may be at risk in case a natural disaster strikes, because the rocks were being dismantled by heavy dredgers to pave the way for the terminal’s construction,” he claimed.
To substantiate his concerns, the petitioner referred to a survey conducted by Japanese experts for the deep sea terminal, saying that the study had clearly suggested establishing such terminals at the western waters. The Karachi Port Trust (KPT) decided, however, to establish the terminal on the eastern front for reasons best known to the authorities, he said. Around 15 square kilometres, including the Clifton beach, have been encroached upon to build the port, the petitioner alleged. He appealed to the court to declare construction of the deep sea container terminal illegal and permanently restrain the authorities from building the port.
The ministries of ports and shipping, environment and tourism, the KPT, Karachi commissioner and the South District deputy commissioner have been cited as respondents. Taking up the matter of public interest in January, 2013, the court had issued notices to the federal, provincial and local government authorities to file their replies. In February, 2014, the KPT had filed comments, but the judges had pointed out that the comments lacked details and important information.
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Qazi Ali Athar, an environmentalist attorney, who has been appointed as Amicus Curiae by the court to assist during the proceedings, had also opposed the project. He suggested the court to call a report of the study, which has been conducted on the directives of the Naval Operations director-general.
Citing the report, Athar had said that the eastern side of the coastal belt was thickly populated and has no infrastructure for the movement of heavy vehicles, which is why the study had suggested western waters for the deep seaport. He had proposed to the judges to call another report prepared by the Senate’s standing committee on ports and shipping that had also opposed the project, arguing that the KPT cannot launch and execute any project without the clearance of federal government.
During the hearings, the authorities kept seeking time to file ‘detailed’ comments and reports, as sought by the judges, but they did not file the same.
At a hearing, held in March last year, the judges had taken strong exception to the relevant authorities’ lukewarm response to their failure to file comments despite grant of time on requests by the law officers representing the federal authorities and parties involved in the matter.
During last week’s proceedings, the petitioner’s lawyer Abdul Wahab Baloch alleged that the officials were deliberately delaying the matter. He pleaded the court to direct them to file detailed comments and reports regarding the impact of the project on the ecology.
However, the judges observed that the federal ministry of commerce was a necessary party in the case and, therefore, they directed the petitioner to file an amended title of the petition. Meanwhile, they also directed the office to issue a notice to the federal commerce ministry to file its comments by the next date, which has been fixed after four weeks.