NDMA’s absence turns Sepa public hearing on nullahs into a farce

NDMA’s absence turns Sepa public hearing on nullahs into a farce

Participants of a public hearing held on Tuesday to discuss the revamping and restoration of the Gujjar, Orangi and Mehmoodabad storm water drains walked out of it because representatives of the project’s main proponent, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), were absent.

The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) was said to have carried out a farcical public hearing on the project because not only NDMA representatives but officials of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), under whose administrative control these drains fall, the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KWSB), whose sewage flows in these drains, and the Sindh

Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) were also uncannily absent.

There’s no purpose of holding a public hearing if the main proponent is absent, according to the Sindh High Court’s Advocate Zubair Abro, who has expertise in environment-related cases.

“The environmental consultant only shares environmental aspects, but the proponent addresses all the other issues,” he said, adding that the NDMA’s absence from the public hearing shows that it doesn’t give any importance to public consultation and isn’t ready to take the project’s ownership.

Sepa Deputy Director Imran Sadiq, who was conducting the public hearing, kept whispering about the whereabouts of NDMA officials with Sepa staff during the hearing, and was visibly irked by their absence.

Towards the end, the hearing had lesser participants than Sepa officials themselves. The public hearing of all the three nalas, which are poles apart in terms of their locations, was held adjacent to the Mehmoodabad Nullah near the KPT Interchange. When The News asked Sadiq if another hearing will be held with the NDMA’s presence, he said no.

Sepa had arranged a small tent for the hearing. Since there was no projector, the report was presented on a small laptop, and that too without the availability of a microphone.

The NDMA had hired Lahore-based Pak Green Enviro-Engineering for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. The NDMA’s Lt Col Kamran Adalat submitted the

report to Sepa.

Abro pointed out that the NDMA should clarify if there was any tender process under the procurement rules or if it just hand-picked some Lahore-based environment consultants for preparing the report, because it had major flaws.

The revamping and restoration of the storm water drains project has led to the deaths of many people in the settlements surroundings the Gujjar Nullah, allegedly due to the demolitions of people’s homes.

Even then, there was no representation of any political party of the city. Sepa Director General Naeem Mughal was also absent from the public hearing. Mughal had also not shown up at the public hearing on the Karachi Circular Railway on November 10. The Karachi Bachao Tehreek’s Aadil Ayub pointed out that the major reasons for the various deaths were complications related to health, finances and stress due to demolitions. “This should have been part of the EIA!”

Major flaws

Abro pointed out that the EIA report prepared by the Pak Green Enviro-Engineering is 150-paged and titled “Volume I of II”, but there’s no volume II available on the Sepa website.

“The project has been categorised as an EIA based on schedule II, category B4 of the 2014 regulations, which is ‘Oil and gas gathering system, separation and storage’, in the executive summary. However, in section 1.9 of chapter 1, the project is categorised as schedule II, category F3 — Food protection. This itself warrants the report’s rejection, as there’s a conflict of information being presented,” he said.

“Large sections of the report have been plagiarised, as is evident from section 4.3, which refers to the socioeconomic analysis carried out for the Jam Chakro landfill site project. Numerous other violations and conflicts are seen in other parts of the report as well.”

Abro further commented on the report that it doesn’t contain any climate data beyond August 2020, “for a report being submitted and discussed in November 2021”.

He also pointed out that the terms of reference of the project, the CNIC and authority letter of the project proponent, the detailed locations of nullahs and rivers, the hydraulics and hydrological analyses of the Mehmoodabad drain, the geotechnical investigation report for the revamping of the Mehmoodabad Nullah from the Malir Bund, the layout drawings of civil works, the environmental monitoring reports, and the results and picture logs of consultations with the locals are the items missing from the EIA posted online, but mentioned as attached in the report’s annex.

Sample size

Pointing out the inadequate representative stakeholder consultation, Ayub said that 65 to 70 respondents were selected by the Lahore-based consultant, and out of those one to five per cent were women. He said that there are three nullahs that are at different locations, having different impacts and different constituents, “but they’re all being rolled up into one and being represented by a single EIA”.

“Nowhere is a breakdown given of how many people are from Orangi, how many from Gujjar and how many from Mehmoodabad,” he said, pointing out that the report isn’t even sure of their exact numbers.

The only documentary evidence of the site visits and stakeholder consultations are six pictures of the affected people in the report. “When I shared this with the affected people, our contact person Arsalan Anjum of the Orangi Nullah pointed out the people he knows personally and who are vehemently against the project, and even shared a video of one of them saying so on the spot.”

In the report it’s mentioned that only eight per cent disapproved of the project because they would lose their houses as a result of the project. “Are we to believe that only eight per cent of the demolition-affected people were engaged during stakeholder consultations?”

Responding to this, the Pak Green Enviro-Engineering’s Ahmad Raza asked Ayub to read the history of Manchester and the history of other nations, and then present arguments of Pakistan. “We’ll have to see what we’re leaving behind for the next generation.”

Razed sans EIA

The EIA report itself mentions that no project would commence construction or operation unless it had filed with Sepa and the initial environmental examination (IEE) or the EIA, and had obtained the agency’s approval for the project.

“Sepa would review the IEE and the EIA and accord approval subject to such terms and conditions as it may prescribe or require,” read the report.

Muhammad Toheed, senior researcher of the IBA’s Karachi Urban Lab, raised this point in the hearing, saying that it has been a year since the project commenced and this is a violation of the Sepa laws.

But Sepa’s Sadiq reasoned that after 2019, the federal government had announced the Karachi Transformation Package, but three consecutive rainfalls had caused massive urban flooding in the city, following which the NDMA intervened and started cleaning the drains, and then the pandemic happened, so the EIA couldn’t take place.

NED’s survey

Umer Colony resident Rana Sadiq pointed out that all the demolitions were taking place over some drone survey carried out by the NED University, but none of their representatives was present in the public hearing. “In the NED University’s survey, roofs were counted, not the number of families living under those roofs.”

The Urban Resource Centre’s Zahid Farooq shared how no survey was conducted on the ground. The KMC’s marking for demolitions continues to date, and the residents are repeatedly facing partial demolitions of their homes.

The EIA report mentions that compensation will come in the shape of two years’ worth of rent calculated at Rs15,000 a month, totalled at Rs360,000 over two years.

But Farooq pointed out how the affected people are facing difficulties due to spelling mistakes in the names on the cheques, while some don’t have ID cards or bank accounts, while the NDMA and the KMC seem to be addressing the issues superficially.

Published in The News By Oonib Azam 01 December 2021

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