Tuesday July 16, 2024

Wahab criticises Sepa for inaction over violations of environmental laws as he inaugurates Jauhar underpass

By Oonib Azam
August 22, 2023

Karachi Mayor Barrister Murtaza Wahab inaugurated the Gulistan-e-Jauhar underpass on Monday at a cost of Rs1 billion in violation of key environmental laws. Experts believe the project has been conceived on an ad-hoc basis without incorporating encroachment issues, conflicting traffic movement and U-turns.

Neither does the project proponent have any record of the trees chopped down for the project nor does the project cost incorporate the planting of new trees.

Wahab, however, told The News that he would make sure that new trees are planted in the surrounding parks to compensate for the uprooted trees.

The ‘Construction of Flyover and Underpass at Jauhar Chowrangi Intersection’ project has been completed at a cost of Rs2.1 billion. The project cost also includes the construction of storm water drains and the replacement of sewerage lines. The cost of the underpass is Rs1 billion.

However, the Government of Sindh neither had the initial environment examination (IEE) done for the project nor had the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report prepared.

The News had reported this gross violation of Section 17 of the Sindh Environmental Protection Act, 2014, back in March when Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari inaugurated the flyover.

“No proponent of a project shall commence construction or operation unless he has filed with the Agency an initial environment examination or environmental impact assessment, and has obtained from the Agency approval in respect thereof,” reads Section 17.

A Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) official confirmed to The News on the condition of anonymity that no EIA report had been submitted to their office by the Sindh Local Government Department for the project. Due to political pressures, said the official, Sepa could not even issue any notice against the project.

The consultancy for the project had been awarded to ABM Engineers. The Jauhar Chowrangi flyover starts near Perfume Chowk on Professor Ghafoor Ahmed Road and ends just before the Darul Sehat Hospital on Abul Asar Hafeez Jalandhari Road. The underpass lies perpendicular to the flyover on the road connecting Samama with Pehlwan Goth.

The EIA and IEE Regulations, 2014, clearly mention that submitting an EIA report is a must before any flyover, underpass or bridge having a total length of over 500 metres is constructed. For the Gulistan-e-Jauhar project, the length of the flyover is 461m and that of the underpass is 1,100m.

Advocate Zubair Abro, who has expertise in environmental laws, said the size and nature of the project had made it mandatory for the LG department to submit an EIA report to Sepa and also hold a public hearing so that people could raise any concerns related to the project.

The environmental protection act’s Section 17(3) says that every review of an EIA must be carried out with public participation. For this project, there was no public hearing, let alone any public objection notice in any newspaper.

The construction of the flyover and the underpass at Jauhar Chowrangi is part of the Karachi Transformation Plan worth Rs1.114 trillion announced in 2020 by the PPP’s provincial government and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s then federal government.

The provincial government has to bear the cost of Rs378 billion, of which Rs233.1 billion is supposed to be spent on road and mass transit projects.

The LG department’s engineer associated with the project, Muhammad Junaid, told The News that the underpass is 1,100m long, 19m wide and five and a half feet high. The underpass was completed in a short period of four and a half months.

Junaid said that instead of the traditional use of asphalt, they used paver blocks on the surface of the underpass because asphalt erodes with time, especially after rain. “But paver blocks are durable, and there’s not much difference between the costs of asphalt and paver blocks.”

He explained that due to the natural gradient of the underpass, rainwater would naturally flow towards the Chakora Nullah, where the underpass would end before Rabia City near Pehlwan Goth. “Gushing rainwater damages the asphalt.”

According to him, traffic would also move on both sides of the underpass on a 24ft-wide road. On one side near the Irum Shopping Centre they have constructed the road by covering the existing rain drains without affecting the service road.

“Traffic will move on storm water drains, as we have capped them by placing slabs,” he said. The width of the drain is 12ft, while its depth varies between 6ft and 9ft.

He said that whenever the drains would need to be cleaned, the slabs would be lifted since they have not cemented them. “There will be a footpath between the 24ft-wide road and a service road.”

He also said that on the opposite side, near Rabia City, there was no rain drain, so they laid a pipe drain that would drain rainwater to the Chakora Nullah.

Apart from this, he pointed out, they have also replaced the Karachi Water & Sewerage Corporation’s 18-inch-diameter pipeline, which was passing through old Jauhar Chowrangi and always used to overflow as it carried sewage of most of the Jauhar neighbourhood, with a 30-inch-diameter pipeline.

Tree felling

Junaid did not have any record of the trees that had been felled for the construction of the flyover and the underpass. He said that mostly Conocarpus trees were uprooted by the Cantonment Board Faisal.

The project cost of Rs2.1 billion does not incorporate the planting of new trees or the replanting of old ones. There are, however, many old trees that were certainly not Conocarpus but were removed to pave the way for the construction of the project.

But Mayor Wahab made the assurance that he would ensure that indigenous trees are planted in the surrounding parks. He said that most of the trees that had been removed from the median were Conocarpus, which were already hazardous.

As for the violation of the environmental protection act, he remarked that he cannot order to demolish the underpass and the flyover now. He stressed that Sepa should have taken notice when the project had started.