ISLAMABAD: A personal loss has unfolded a collective tragedy in Karachi where a factory dumping site in Gadap Town exposes over two million residents to cancer-causing chemicals (Chrysotile asbestos) that annually take 100,000 lives at the global level resulting in its ban in 52 countries.
This has been revealed in a report of the commission formed on the petition of a citizen, Syed Haroon, whose brother, an employee of Dadex Eternet Limited, died of cancer allegedly due to asbestos poisoning.
All forms of asbestos including Chrysotile are classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the International Programme of Chemical Safety (jointly run by the United Nations Environment Programme, International Labour Organization and World Health Organization).
The Pakistani government, in contrast, is least bothered about the safety of its citizens. A study commissioned on the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan has found that the populations residing in Gadap Town and nearby areas such as Naya Nazimabad are prone to cancer-like diseases through asbestos, a chemical can affect the population in neighborhood as it is air-borne.
Incidentally, Naya Nazimabad Housing Scheme, a project for affluent class, has recently been developed very next to the dumping site raising safety concerns for those settled in this newly established colony where more than 4,000 plots have already been sold.
The environmental study was initiated on the petition of the brother of Syed Farid Ahmed, an engineer at Dadex Eternet Limited, who had died of cancer in 2006. The deceased’s brother filed the criminal complaint against the factory saying the cancer was caused by the polluted environment of the industrial unit.
These apprehensions have now been endorsed by the Commission report that said the Chrysotile asbestos is an essential component of the manufacturing process/product produced by the Dadex Eternet factory.
This petition has spanned over half a decade as the forums approached were under immense pressure not to allow any study into the environmental hazards as doing so could result in hurting big business interests.
It started from Environmental Protection Agency’s tribunal that resisted the pressure from various quarters to form the Commission, but the experts nominated to conduct the study gave up at a stage due to threats from different vested interests.
The plaintiff approached various high ups of international agencies working on environmental issues in order to apprise them of the gravity of situation in Pakistan. Among those the petitioner approached included former US Vice President Al Gore. These organizations also wrote to the concerned authorities in Pakistan.
The case later moved to Sindh High Court and then on to Supreme Court that gave justice a ray of hope in shape of the establishment of a new Commission for the study. As the Commission’s report has been submitted to the Supreme Court, nobody is ready to speak on it given the sensitivity of findings and the powerful land mafia that would be affected by it. Also, the petitioner was reluctant to speak on the issue but for different reason. He said the report has been submitted at a forum like the apex court and let it decide.
The Commission’s report noted that there were inadequate occupation and safety conditions within the factory and Gadap Town dumping site. “The overall analytical data verifies the presence of respirable/ airborne asbestos (chrysotile) fibers in occupational, para occupational environment and Gadap Town and dumping site.”
Explaining the condition in the factory premises, the report said that occupational/working environment within the factory appeared to be not free of asbestos fibers. “Majority of a few randomly selected present and ex-employees complained of various chest and lungs related diseases,” it said.
During a visit to the factory and the dumping site (Gadap Town), the Commission observed small heaps of fine grains asbestos bearing “waste sites within the factory and a huge dumping site (Gadap Town). Both sites were not adequately managed nor periodically monitored.”
The commission has also complained that it was not provided sufficient and update information regarding investigation, its cameras carrying visual evidences were “lost” in Karachi.
As far as Naya Nazimabad is concerned (Gadap Town’s neighboring area prone to cancer-causing chemicals affects), this residential colony has also raised serious question marks since it was granted on industrial lease when Javedan Cement factory was privatised in 2006. Its major shareholders holding ten percent or more shares of the Company include big names of Karachi Stock Exchange like Arif Habib, Aqeel Karim Dhedhi, Haji Abdul Ghani and Shunaid Qureshi as per its annual report from June 2012
Other than violating lease agreement converting it from industrial to residential estate, no effort has been made to clean it from chrysotile asbestos before launching this housing scheme, let alone the already neighboring affected areas residing Karachiites for decades.
Javedan Cement was privatised at throwaway price in 2006 under the commitment that the industrial unit will be revived and a power plant of 100 MW will be installed, reveals documents and newspaper reports of that time quoting the representatives of the company.
The company’s land had an industrial/mining lease of remaining 30-year. However, its annual report for the year ended June 30, 2007, showed addition to its freehold land aggregating Rs685.787 million but did not explain how this addition occurred.
The approval of the disposal of land was sought from the Company’s general meeting in March 2009 and the resolution present in this respect was accompanied by a Revaluation Report (done by Engr. Zafar Iqbal of Yunus Mirza & Co) regarding the “freehold land” bearing survey nos. 34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 55, 59, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 85, 87, 88, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101 & 103 Naclas No. 33 and 70, Deh Manghopir and Naclass No. 1, Deh Orangi Tappo Manghopir, Gadap Town, Karachi.
Most of the leased Land, the revaluation report states, is not developed. Yunus Mirza & Co. determined the value of the property at Rs5.199 billion. As a result of this revaluation, the company booked a staggering surplus on revaluation of Rs4.506 Billion. Resultantly, the value of the undeveloped land, which was purchased in 2007 for Rs685.787 million appreciated to over Rs5 billion and only in less than two years.
The company again carried out the revaluation of the above “freehold land” in 2010 through Joseph Lobo (Pvt.) Limited that determined the value of the land under market value basis amounting to Rs8.389 billion resulting in an additional surplus on revaluation of Rs3.189 billion. Therefore, the aggregate surplus on revaluation comes to Rs7.695 billion in just three to four years. While the Yunus Mirza revaluation report declared it “leased land,” it is not known how and when it was converted into “freehold land”.
The land was allotted for a Lease period of 99 years, according to the revaluation report. However, the company shows this land in its audited statements as “freehold land” which is being sold to general public under the name of Naya Nazimabad Project.
It is interesting to note that the Younus Mirza & Co. report also disclosed that no valuation record existed regarding this Land from local Patwari and Mukhtiarkar.
As The News sent a list of questions for versions from Arif Habib, Chairman of Naya Nazimabad project, he said he was not aware of any report commissioned by the Supreme Court hence no effort has been made to protect or clean up the Naya Nazimabad site from the entry of air-borne chemicals situated in the neighboring 15-km dumping site in Gadap Town.
Regarding the commitments made by Javedan Cement at the time of privatization (to revive this industrial unit and produce electricity), Arif Habib denied making such pledges.
Replying to the question about its leasing status, Arif Habib said the company owned some freehold land as well as 99-year leasehold land thus its status remains unchanged as there is no conversion into freehold land.
Asked about the addition of land occurred showing increase in it aggregating Rs685.787 million without explaining this addition in the company’s annual report, Arif Habib said the addition reflected the expenses incurred by the company for improving land conditions.
To a question about revaluation report’s findings that ‘most of the leased land is not developed,’ and thus determined its value to the tune of Rs5.199 billion, he said the company’s accounts reflected the land value at its historical cost.
In line with the report’s findings, the company booked a staggering surplus on revaluation of Rs4.506 billion meaning thereby that the land purchased for Rs685.787 billion appreciated to over another five billions rupees in only two-year duration. Responding to this query, he said he had spent Rs165 million on GHS/VSS and Rs686.787 million were spent on developing it.
To a question that revaluation report said that land record was not found from local patwari, Arif Habib replied that the land was leased out by the collector in 1960 and the ownership was reflected in Records of Rights as maintained by the Board of Revenue.