Development projects are being commissioned in violation of environmental laws
Director General Sindh EPA
Since its creation in January 1989, Sindh Environmental Protection Agency has been frequently attacked by the press, non-governmental organisations and citizen activists for its inaction and ineffective role. This general perception of Sindh EPA as a 'do-nothing' organisation is a part of peoples' overall view of the way our government departments work, or for that matter, don't work. However, seeking to go beyond mere condemnation, TNS encountered the director general of this expanding department. The idea was to give Sindh EPA a chance to explain its failures and achievements thus far, besides identifying its future plans for a more concrete action towards the protection of environment.
Having joined Sindh EPA as the director general only two months back, Brig (R) Akhtar Zamin brings with him thirty years of professional experience in the Armed Forces of Pakistan. While some expectation prevails in the concerned quarters that as a former soldier, he will spear-head the cause of environmental protection on a war footing, only performance will substantiate such hopes or prove them to be a product of wishful thinking. Unlike his predecessor, Mehtab A. Rashdi who managed to promote environmental awareness due to her strong media presence, Akhtar Zamin is rather shy of talking to journalists. This is one of his first interviews to a newspaper after he took charge as DG Sindh EPA.
TNS: Sindh EPA has not been taken seriously by private investors and government agencies undertaking development projects. Do you agree?
AZ: Yes. I recognise that development projects have been, and are being, commissioned without our knowledge or approval. Under the law of the land, a comprehensive environment impact assessment is to be submitted to the provincial EPA before any development project is undertaken. Our officers are supposed to go through the report, and after being satisfied, issue a 'no objection certificate'. However, in practice this obligation is being bypassed in clear violation of the law.
In many cases, we only come to find out about environmental laws being violated by a government agency or private investors through the press or the parties being adversely affected. Whenever such cases are brought to our notice, we take necessary action according to our powers and responsibilities.
TNS: Precisely, how do you plan to assert EPA's role in the days to come?
AZ: We are trying to assert EPAs role in difficult circumstances. Our officers routinely face resistance from factories and industries when they visit them for monitoring of pollution generating levels. Unlike a police officer or a magistrate, we are not taken seriously by most businesses.
On top of that, the non-serious attitude and lack of cooperation on the part of the concerned police and administration deprives our officers of the force needed to implement environmental laws.
To take care of these problems, I have recently met with the Chief Secretary Sindh. I have apprised him of the difficulties we are facing in performing our duties. He has promised to ensure that we get the necessary cooperation from the police and the administration and will shortly issue directions to the Inspector General Police and divisional commissioners in this regard. We hope that with support from the CS, we will be able to play our role more effectively in the future.
TNS: EPA frequently justifies its severely limited role due to lack of funds and shortage of qualified staff. Is there any move to overcome these problems?
AZ: Certainly. As you may be aware, the financial position of the Sindh government is already under severe resource crunch. In these circumstances, we can't expect the provincial government to allocate more funds for the EPA.
Nevertheless, the much needed expansion of the department is on its way under the EPARC Project. It is a project worth Rs 130 million for which eighty per cent funds are being provided by the World Bank.The remaining twenty per cent will be met by the Sindh government. The World Bank has offered the amount as a soft loan repayable at a very low interest rate spread over 27 years period. The first installment of these funds was issued in 1993 while the last one will be released in 1999.
Under the project, we are presently in the process of establishing EPA offices in Hyderabad and Sukkur. The expansion of our official network comes from the realisation that the province's environmental problems aren't limited to Karachi only. We have already appointed officers and staff and purchased necessary equipment for our new offices. We are hoping that the two divisional offices will be fully functional by the end of March this year.
-- Shahzeb Jillani