The builders of the Bus Rapid Transit system have ignored safety and environmental regulations as well as notices from the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) at the massive construction site stretching from Kalma Chowk to Ravi Road, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The BRTS is to run all the way down Ferozepur Road from Kahna to Mozang, then along Lytton Road to MAO College, along the Lower Mall to Data Darbar, and then along Ravi Road to the Old Ravi Bridge. The original plan was for a ground-level track, but in June the government changed the design and is now building an elevated track from the Muslim Town Flyover on Ferozepur Road all the way to the Old Ravi Bridge. Workers are currently putting up giant steel frames for pillars that will support the elevated track.
In three days since August 14, Rescue 1122 has recorded 48 accidents at the BRTS construction site, one of which has been fatal. Meanwhile, The Express Tribune has pictorial evidence that the government has not taken the safety and environmental measures recommended in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the project, even though the EIA was done for a project plan that has since been altered and now poses added risks.
In July, the EPD served notices on the Traffic Engineering and Transport Planning Agency (TEPA), which is supervising the project, and its contractors asking them to take measures to control the dust generated by the construction work. Dust particles are a major air pollutant and lead to respiratory diseases.
An EPD officer said on the condition of anonymity that their notices had been ignored. He said that officials of the department were reluctant to press the matter as they were aware of how important the project was to the chief minister.
He said that the EIA had stated that an environment manager should be hired to ensure that construction sites were cordoned off for public safety, that the sites were sprinkled with water to settle dust, and sign boards were put up to warn pedestrians and traffic. He said that none of this was being done.
He said that dust levels had increased because of massive excavations between Lytton Road and Data Darbar. He said that the heavy machinery being used for excavating and installing the pillars runs on diesel and emits dangerous fumes.
The EPD had conducted the EIA for the project in May, but the project design was later changed. Under the Punjab Environmental Protection Act of 2012, the government must conduct an EIA for development projects costing more than a certain amount, and then hold a public hearing concerning the EIA, before it starts the project.
EPD inspectors said that the altered design had a bigger impact and there had been no public hearing on the revised plans. “Building the track along the road just involved erecting fences to separate it from the rest of the road. But an elevated track involves excavations leaving big ditches in the ground, which if left uncovered or not cordoned off can cause accidents,” said an inspector.
EPD EIA Director Naseemur Rahman Shah, who compiled the first EIA report, said that he had “fulfilled the formality” of conducting another EIA. “We finished it about a month ago, but we haven’t decided on a date yet for a public hearing,” he said.
Rehman said the public hearing was “also just a formality”. He added: “Public hearing or no public hearing, the project cannot be stopped.”
According to Section 12 (1) of the PEPA, “No proponent of a project shall commence construction or operation unless he has filed … an environmental impact assessment … with the provincial agency [EPD] …” Section 12 (2) states that the provincial environment agency shall review the EIA. Clause 3 of Section 12 states: “Every review of an environmental impact assessment shall be carried out with public participation…”
The government’s failure to adequately cordon off the construction site has resulted in deaths. On June 30, a man died after falling into a ditch at Mozang, Rescue 1122 official Shakeel told The Express Tribune.
He said that Rescue 1122 had started compiling a separate set of data on accidents at the BRTS construction site on August 14, after a woman had died after falling into a ditch from a motorbike near Azadi Chowk. He said that 48 accidents had been reported from . He said that most of the accidents were at Mozang and Azadi Chowk. There were large ditches at these sites that were particularly difficult to see at night and after rain.
TEPA Director Mazhar Khan said that all mitigation measures demanded in the advisory notice issued by the EPD were being followed. He said that the under-construction area had been cordoned off with aluminium sheets. “Maybe 10 per cent of the area has not been covered because heavy machinery needs to be moved around,” he said.
He said that red tape had been put up around ditches and depressions to warn traffic and pedestrians. He said signboards informing the public about the project and alternate routes had been put up too.
Nishaad, who lives in the Walled City and works at the Lower Mall, said that there were no road signs directing traffic between Azaadi Chowk and Data Darbar. “The road is severely congested normally and is even worse right now. There is no segregation between the area under construction and traffic,” he said.
The EPD had issued notices to TEPA Director Mazhar Hussain Khan, the project director of the National Logistics Cell (NLC), and Azharul Haq, the chief executive officer of IKAN engineering services, after the district coordination officer had received a number of complaints about high dust levels and traffic and safety concerns.
NLC officials refused to comment.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2012.