KARACHI: The judicial commission on Saturday reprimanded the owners of 77 industrial units for not allowing Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) officials and judicial magistrates to inspect the availability of solid waste treatment plants at their factories.
Justice (retd) Amir Hani Muslim, head of the Supreme Court-appointed commission, directed the Sepa officials and judicial magistrates to carry out physical inspections of the 77 units with a direction to the owners to refrain from creating any hindrances.
At the outset, the owners of the units appeared and filed their explanations to the show-cause notices issued by the commission for denying the officials and judicial magistrates entry to their units for inspection last week.
Coming down hard on them, Justice (retd) Muslim remarked that criminal proceedings may be initiated against the factories' owners for hindering compliance with the commission's order for inspection as they denied the officials entry to their units.
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The lawyers for the factory owners said that they were not given prior notice by Sepa for inspection and submitted an unconditional apology. The commission inquired from the lawyer, who represented Pak-Arab Refinery, whether the factories operate under any law.
Sepa officials complained that the factories were discharging toxic and hazardous industrial waste into drains and their management did not allow inspection of the premises. Only six of 77 owners allowed them to visit their units.
The District West SSP also appeared before the commission.
The commission directed the Sepa officials to visit all 77 factories, along with police officials. It directed them to take legal action against the management of any factory if they are denied entry.
Justice (retd) Muslim also ordered the police officials to take action against the owners of six factories, who earlier denied entry to the inspection team.
However, the factory owners undertook that the Sepa officials and judicial magistrates will not be denied entry to their units. They pleaded to the court to order withdrawal of cases registered against their factory managers. They clarified that the judicial officers were not denied entry, but the Sepa and police officials were still harassing them. Without issuing any prior notice, the names of the factory owners have been publicised in the media, they complained.
Justice (retd) Muslim told the owners that the commission had no authority to order the withdrawal of cases. But, he warned, that strict action will be taken against them in case they restricted inspections again.
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The commission discharged the show-cause notices issued to the factory owners and also restrained Sepa and the police from causing any undue harassment.
An interesting situation arose when the provincial local government secretary disclosed that the director of the Hyderabad town planning department, Arif Memon, who himself was present during the hearing, had retired from service two years ago.
Clarifying that he would retire on March 3 this year, Memon disclosed that he had not been paid his salary for the last 17 months either by the Hyderabad town planning department or Sindh Building Control Authority.
The commission inquired from the director whether he had changed his date of birth in his documents.
Justice (retd) Muslim told Memon there was a mushrooming growth in the number of buildings and asked if there was any official town planning or master plan for the city.
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Justice (retd) Muslim said that a draft of the master plan for Karachi was devised in 1958, but it had not been notified to date. Officials said the city's master plan was approved by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation City Council during the tenure of Mustafa Kamal.
Planning and Development Chairperson Mohammad Waseem candidly admitted that such a situation would cause problems in the future.
The commission directed the officials to submit the master plan for Karachi and Hyderabad within one week. Justice (retd) Muslim also warned the provincial government that the commission would ban on new housing schemes and projects until the master plan was not enforced. He sought details of housing schemes and projects of the two cities.
The commission inquired from the newly-appointed secretary of the public health engineering department, Asif Hyder Shah, as to why sanitation development schemes were not being executed.
Shah said that the schemes were being categorised and assured that they will be executed at a fast pace.
The commission directed the provincial chief secretary to ensure that all the water supply-related development schemes were transferred to the public health engineering department. It gave Shah two weeks to decide which schemes would be executed by the department.
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The commission granted the health secretary more time to submit a work plan for provision of clean drinking water at public hospitals.
Karachi Water and Sewerage Board officials presented work plans of the K-IV and S-III water supply projects.
The petitioner, Shahab Usto, pointed out that the water to be supplied through the K-IV project would be first supplied to the mega housing scheme, Bahria Town, and the remaining would be supplied to the city.
The commission inquired about the quantity of water that would be supplied to Karachi through the K-IV, which aims to supply 260 million gallons of water per day. Noting that changes were being made to the project, Justice (retd) Muslim said all the water should be supplied to the residents of the metropolis.
Waseem said the federal government had not provided the required funds for the project to install six combined effluent treatment plants. While the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council had approved the funds, the federal Cabinet has objected to it, he regretted.
A judicial magistrate filed a report disclosing that contrary to their claims, the Rangers personnel were not patrolling the Malir riverbed, where illegal practice of excavating reti and bajri was still continuing without any check.
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A Rangers official insisted that two mobile vans with Rangers personnel were stationed for the purpose of patrolling.
Justice (retd) Muslim asked the Rangers official if the judicial magistrate's statement was false or if the practice was still continuing and if so, who was responsible for it. The Rangers official said they were continuously reporting their presence and patrolling in the area.
The next hearing was fixed for March 5.