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Judicial commission orders inquiry to ascertain reasons for Sepa’s failings

The judicial commission formed by the Supreme Court to probe the province’s water and sanitation issues has expressed reservations over the performance of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) and ordered the chairman of the taskforce to look into the agency’s affairs, identify the reasons for failure and suggest remedial measures to make it a result-oriented organisation.

The directives were issued by the commission’s head, Justice Mohammad Iqbal Kalhoro, during Saturday’s hearing wherein Sepa Additional Director Syed Mohammad Yahya submitted a report that cited the agency’s action to send cases of 26 industrial units to the environment tribunal for prosecution.

However, Yahya was asked to explain why only 26 units had been targeted in a province where thousands of industrial units were openly violating environment laws. Justice Kalhoro observed that Sepa was essential for effective redressal of the pressing issue of unchecked effluent discharge but the agency had consistently failed to fulfill the responsibility.

To this end, he directed the chairman of the taskforce to probe Sepa’s affairs to identify the causes for its failure and to suggest remedial measures to make it a result-oriented organisation.

Additional Advocate General Sarwar Khan submitted at the hearing that in terms of Section 16 of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board Act, the regulation for adequately and systematically operating water hydrants have been drafted by the KWSB and have been submitted to the chief minister.

However, he continued, the necessary approval from the provincial cabinet and government had not been acquired yet. The AAG assured the court that the draft regulations would be submitted for approval before the next cabinet meeting.

Abdul Rahim Soomro, provincial secretary for industries, informed the commission that progress on the five combined effluent treatment plants in Karachi was at a stop due to financial constraints which were to be shared by the federal government.

Soomro and the federal law officer submitted that a meeting was held with relevant stakeholders but the finance department took exception over the release of funds for establishing five combined effluents treatment plants in Karachi on the grounds that the same does not pertain to export development funds. The federal law officer sought time to submit the minutes of that meeting.

To this, the deputy attorney general requested a copy of the minutes prepared so far so that he could liaise with the secretaries of the planning and development department to get the latest information in this regard.

In compliance of the commission’s directives, Dr Ghulam Murtaza, member of the taskforce, had visited the Jamshoro Filter Plant, Hyderabad, and he disclosed at the hearing that the water being provided was only safe in terms of chemical parameters. The water, he stated, was unsafe in terms of physical and microbiological parameters.

The judicial commission directed the managing director of the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa), Hyderabad, to take action to improve quality of water supply and to submit a report.

A member of the taskforce also suggested that waste being discharged from industries at SITE, Hyderabad, may be brought into the loop to contribute towards effluent treatment.  The commission directed Wasa to examine the proposal and submit a report.

The taskforce member also informed the commission that drinking water being provided at a hospital, the Larkana Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Radiotherapy, was unsafe for human consumption due to chemical and microbiological contamination.

Moreover, he reported that the water tank or locally-made filtration plant was installed in an unhygienic area. The commission directed the director of the hospital to appear at the next hearing.

Justice Kalhoro also voiced concerns over non-functionality of filtration plants in Umerkot and Jati districts due to want of electricity. The commission issued show-cause notices to the in-charge of the filtration plant and the public health engineering head of District Umerkot to explain the cause and argue over why they should not face disciplinary action for failure to perform their duty.

On the commission’s directives with regards to quality of drinking water and sanitation conditions at schools and colleges of the province, Abdul Aziz Uqaili, the recently removed education secretary, appeared in person to inform the commission of his transfer and Iqbal Hussain Durrani’s appointment as his replacement.

The province’s additional advocate general sought time to submit a report on the quality of drinking water and sanitation conditions at Sindh’s schools and colleges.

Public Health Engineering Secretary Tameezuddin submitted that the Benazirabad effluent treatment plant would be made functional by October 15 and would be working at full capacity within two to three months.  Regarding the filter plant at Golarchi, Badin, the local government secretary informed the commission that the issues regarding funds for the plant had been resolved and it would be made functional soon. The commission directed the taskforce chairman to examine the deputy commissioner’s report with regards to federal government funds for establishment of filter plants.

Justice Kalhoro also took notice of the low capacity of filtered water from six reverse osmosis (RO) plants in Badin and directed the secretaries of local government and public health engineering to devise a working plan to increase the capacity.

Pervaiz Afzal, chief engineer of Sepco, submitted that five connections requiring energy were identified during meeting with the PHED secretary, of which three connections of the filter plants have been energised while the other two would be provided electricity within two days.

Sindh Health Secretary Dr Fazalullah Pechuho told the commission that incinerators had been installed at four hospitals – Ghulam Mohammad Mehar Hospital in Sukkur, Lyari General Hospital, Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi and the Jinnah Postgraduate and Medical Centre – but said that their activation would take a further one month.

He submitted that three more incinerators were in the process of being installed in Shikarpur, Naushero Feroze and Badin districts. Regarding supply of clean water to hospitals, Dr Pechuho submitted that he was personally supervising the process and suggested that the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources be involved to conduct quality tests. To this, Justice Kalhoro said the needful should be done.

Khurshid, Jamal. Judicial commission orders inquiry to ascertain reasons for Sepa’s failings. The News, October 9, 2017.

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