KARACHI: At a time when the global community is obsessing over environmental degradation and pollution, the Sindh Environment Minister Taimur Talpur confessed on Monday that "there are only two air quality monitoring apparatuses" in Karachi, and they too are unable to properly determine the air quality in the teeming metropolis.
The admission came during the question-answer session in the Sindh Assembly, when Talpur said that one monitor was fixed atop the Sindh Environment Protection Agency's head office and the other in the office of the District Central deputy commissioner. "In addition, we have one mobile van that has the capability of assessing air pollution in urban areas of Karachi," he said, adding that besides Karachi, there was no monitoring unit in the rest of the province. SEPA dispatches the mobile van to the area wherefrom complaints of poor air quality and breathing difficulties are received.
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The minister's response astonished many in the House, half of which was empty due to the Opposition's walkout. "This is so serious. How can you tackle the issue given the prevalent circumstances?" asked Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Marvi Faseh.
Talpur informed the House that the department had prepared a feasibility report to get new equipment and revamp the labs. "This scheme will cost around Rs1 billon and we will set up the main labs and its units at the district level across the province," he said. "I also request the federal government to help and allocate some funds so that we can jointly resolve this issue," he added.
Karachi is one of the largest cities in the world and is said to be among the 10 most-polluted cities in terms of air quality. "I have submitted a report to the court and also requested the chief minister to approve the scheme."
To a question regarding cement factories and other industrial units causing pollution in the province, the minister said there are six cement factories that run on coal. "We have directed all factories to install modern technology to minimise the pollution," said Talpur. "Lucky Cement and Power Cement Factory have made efforts to curtail air pollution by trapping the harmful substances before they are released into the air."
With regard to untreated water and industrial waste being released into the sea, rivers and canals, the minister referred to the directives of the judicial commission on water and sanitation. "We took action and sealed many factories, but their owners went to court and got stay orders," he explained, adding that the courts had given limited time to all factories and industries to install the treatment plants.
Talpur said that his department was keeping an eye on the issue and will take action if the orders were not implemented. Asked about the penalty, he said, "We impose Rs5 million on those who violate the law. But I think this is a meager amount, so we are going to make an amendment to the 'Sindh Environment Protection Act' to increase the penalty to Rs50 million for those operating large scale industries."
During the session, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal's Abdul Rashid asked about the progress on Greater Karachi Sewerage Plan, also known as the S-III project. The minister replied that one plant had been constructed, while two others were still under construction and would likely be finalised by 2019.
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"Around 470 MGD of sewerage water will be treated per day," he said, adding that the court has also ordered the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and Karachi Port Trust (KPT) to install their treatment plants too. "We are also going to install combined treatment plants with 50% funding from the federal government," he said. "It will treat 100 MGD of sewerage per day, but unfortunately the federal government is not cooperating and releasing funds," he said.
Rashid, however, expressed concern over the slow pace of work on the S-III and said, "Lyari River is one of the major components of the S-III, but I don't see any progress on it." The minister asked him to arrange a joint visit to review the ongoing work.
Opposition protest and walkout
Earlier, as the session started with Deputy Speaker Rehana Leghari in the chair, Opposition members from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Grand Democratic Alliance started their protest, demanding the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Leghari warned them to be seated and take part in the Assembly proceedings, but they did not heed her. The Speaker continued the Assembly proceedings by starting the question-answer session. After a few minutes of protest, the Opposition members walked out of the session.
The Assembly also adopted a resolution, felicitating the Sindh Assembly on completing 80 years of its existence. The resolution was moved by PPP MPA Ghazala Siyal. Later, the Speaker adjourned the session till today (Tuesday).
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2019.