Environmental activists have demanded the Sindh government declare the mangrove forests on Buddu and Bundal islands protected to prevent an ecological disaster.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday at the Karachi Press Club, petitioners Yasir Hussain, Ahmad Shabbar and their lawyer, Jibran Nasir, pointed out that both the islands were not listed as protected islands by the provincial government.
Shabbar said that the mangrove forests of the Indus Delta were crucial to saving Karachi, Thatta, Sajawal and Badin from seawater intrusion. "These mangroves are necessary for Karachi, in particular, given the recent heatwave phenomenon and the city’s susceptibility to tsunamis and cyclones," he added.
"The mangroves in Indus Delta have international importance as the Indus Delta is covered by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and listed among the WWF’s Global 200 list of important ecological sites," he said.
However, the activists regretted that despite its importance, the mangrove cover has depleted tremendously over the past four decades and it is only now that some restoration efforts are being made.
Hussain said that, "It was worrisome for the residents of Karachi when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government introduced the Pakistan Island Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance 2020 to start commercial construction on both islands."
He added that, "The federal government in its short-sightedness had claimed that the development would create 125,000 jobs, but it failed to consider that over 200,000 fisher folk would lose their livelihoods as a result."
According to the estimate provided by Shabbar and Hussain, 800,000 people will likely be displaced due to the construction on these islands.
Additionally, they claimed that "in order to build a city on the islands the builders will fill in (what they call as 'reclaim') parts of the sea using sand from other parts of the seabed. This, they said, would lead to an irreversible change in the ocean channels and will have a direct impact on the route to Port Qasim, causing economic damages.
Subsequently, the two stated that on the issue of federalism, provincial autonomy and climate justice, a petition challenging PIDA was filed by them and Professor Jameel Kazmi before the Sindh High Court.
Their counsel, Jibran Nasir, claimed that it was revealed during the preparation of the petition that the Sindh government had its own plans for the commercial use of Buddu and Bundal islands.
He said, "The provincial government had managed to do this secretly by issuing a notification in 2010 which on its face appeared to declare all mangrove forests in the Indus Delta as protected but on closer inspection, it was revealed that the government had deliberately left out the Buddu and Bundul islands from the list."
Nasir said that the petition also raised questions for the Sindh government in light of this notification.
While the PIDA ordinance expired within the first three months of the above mentioned petition, the provincial government "used delaying tactics and failed to submit a response despite a passage of 10 months," the counsel added.
Nasir stated that "it was only after the chief justice communicated that non-bailable warrants would be issued for the secretary forest that he appeared before the court on August 25".
He said the forest secretary had made a verbal statement before the court that mangroves on Buddu and Bundal islands were protected. However, Nasir claimed the secretary failed to submit this in writing.
"The secretary forest made a verbal statement before the court that mangroves on Buddu and Bundal islands are protected. However, when the court asked that the same statement be submitted in writing, the secretary on September 2 submitted that the forests on Buddu and Bundal were not protected and had been left out of the 2010 notification due to an ‘omission and/or lapse’ and that the Sindh government will now officially make provisions to declare the mangroves on Buddu and Bundal as protected within six months," the counsel stated.
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