Work on flyover begins without Sepa approval

KARACHI, Sept 18: Work on the Ayesha Manzil flyover, which was formally launched with Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad laying the foundation stone of the project on Monday, has begun without the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation having obtained mandatory permission from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, it emerged on Tuesday.

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) or initial environmental examination (IEE) of major projects like this has to be conducted and its approval has to be obtained from Sepa before the start of work, according to environment experts, who termed any such work carried out without environmental watchdog’s approval illegal.

The Sepa chief confirmed to Dawn that the question of giving approval did not arise, because no EIA report related to the flyover project had yet been submitted.

A KMC official argued that so far only some piling work had been initiated and tests were being conducted to see if the land could bear weight/ pressure etc, and ‘actual work’ had not yet started.

He added that they intended to conduct the EIA and obtain approval from Sepa before starting the ‘actual work’.

The KMC plans construction of four flyovers — one each at the Ayesha Manzil, Water Pump, Dak Khana and Teen Hatti intersections — to ensure smooth traffic flow between Sohrab Goth and Guru Mandir on one of the major traffic arteries of the city.

The foundation stone of Ayesha Manzil flyover, one of the four to be constructed, was laid on Monday while the foundation stones of the rest of the three, according to a KMC spokesperson, are expected to be laid this week.

Responding to Dawn queries on Tuesday, SEPA Director General Rafiuddin said that under Section 12 of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997, work on the project could only be started after its EIA had been approved.

To ensure that a project was environmentally safe and sustainable, he explained that an EIA study was conducted and its report along with an application was submitted to Sepa for approval before the start of work.

After receiving the EIA report, Sepa invites public objections through the media and a public hearing is organised where all the stakeholders given the opportunity to raise their concerns regarding the project, according to the Sepa chief.

It was only after this exercise that Sepa in the light of objections raised and experts’ opinion took a final decision on project’s approval and fixed conditions if needed, the director-general explained.

He said that if any work was carried out before the project’s approval by Sepa, it was deemed illegal and in violation of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997. Legal process was initiated against the violator under Sections 16 and 17 of Pepa 1997 by the agency which was then taken to the environmental tribunal, he added.

The law prescribes long prison terms and heavy fines for the violators.

In this case, Mr Rafiuddin said, the KMC had not yet submitted the EIA report to Sepa nor had it applied for permission or an NOC. “Obviously, no approval has thus been given,” he said.

He told Dawn that he was leaving for a meeting in Islamabad, but he had directed an official to initiate the process and a notice would be sent to the KMC on his return, most probably on Thursday.

When contacted, KMC Ayesha Manzil flyover project director Mohammad Taha said that ‘actual work’ had not yet started as only some piling work and tests were being conducted to see if the land could bear weight / pressure.

He said: “An EIA study regarding the project will be carried out and submitted to Sepa to get its approval / permission within the next few days.”

The work would start only after Sepa gave the go-ahead, he added.

Sources said it had become a normal practice that project executors did not conduct EIA or IEE study and submit its report to Sepa to get its approval before starting the project until the issue was highlighted in the media.

The private parties after being caught quickly get over with the process, while the role of government organizations was even worse as they keep on dragging the issue as had happened in the case of the Gizri flyover, which was constructed by the Defence Housing Authority, and the EIA approval was finally granted by Sepa when the flyover was nearing completion, the sources said.
They said that while the government was not being able to effectively enforce EIA condition, it initiated National Impact Assessment Programme — which besides the EIA is based on the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) — with the assistance from the Netherlands. Experts believed that the introduction of SEA in development planning in the country would make the planning process more inclusive, minimize contradiction in policies, plans and programmes, strengthen inter-sector cooperation and coordination, decrease the project level EIA and ensure planning was economically viable, environmentally sustainable and cost effective in the long run.