KARACHI: Recently, three senior lawyers wrote a letter to the Chief Minister advising him to order the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) to involve the public on Sunday in the review process of the 2014 Sindh Environmental Protection Act and its rules and regulations.
As suggested by the department, the letter further asks for a strategic environmental review of the changes to the legislation.
Sources said the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn, was published without including the public in the review process, a necessary requirement under the statute, against the context of the government’s effort to amend the Act and laws.
In this regard, a draught was already submitted to the law department for vetting, they added. The department recently had a high-level conference to address reforms and the framing of new regulations, sources said, but there was no talk of public involvement in the review process.
Proposed changes to law will make Sepa, tribunal legally ineffective
Written by lawyers Shahab Usto, Ghulam Rasool Soho (a member of the Sindh Bar Council) and Zubair Ahmed Abro, the letter on the issue,’ Violation of the fundamental rights to the environment and knowledge by Sindh, environmental security, marine, development and climate department’
The letter notes that the draught changes are stated to include, inter alia, the dumping of industrial effluent; adjustment to the ‘Original Environmental Review Legislative (IEE)’ and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) provisions; powers of the Environmental Protection Tribunal.
These reforms will ultimately have an impact on the security of the environment in Sindh province. It would be fitting to point out here that the provincial environmental legislation requires specific requirements for its enforcement, and an effective environmental protection agency, because of the rise in climate-induced incidents, including heavy rains, heat waves, extended rain deficits leading to droughts,
It applies to Section 18 of the 2014 Act, which allows for the introduction of a strategic environmental review of each department or agency’s strategies, regulations, plans and programmes.
Sindh Environmental Protection shall be forwarded to all provincial government institutions, offices, authorities, city bodies and municipal authorities responsible for formulating policies, regulations, plans and projects to be enforced in the province of Sindh that could have some environmental effect within the province’s jurisdiction before applying the same to the competent authority for approval.
It may be mentioned here that Section 18 and Rule 7 of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency Rules, 2015 make it mandatory to hold public consultation for a review of strategic environmental assessment.
Section 18 is a mandatory clause since, under Section 22 of the 2014 Act, non-compliance is punishable.
The lawyers advised the chief minister to order Sepa to carry out a strategic environmental evaluation of the draught changes to the Act and to include the public in the review process.
A reading of the draught of the 2014 Sindh Environmental Protection Act (Amendment 2019) reveals that it proposes significant reforms that will strip legislative authority from local courts, the Environmental Protection Tribunal and Sepa, an important yet overlooked body that is now too small to uphold the law and convict powerful criminals.
Under the revised version of the statute, Sepa will forfeit the legal right to access and carry out independent investigation of any property where there are fair reasons to conclude that a crime has been, or is, or is likely to be committed under this act.
The draught legislation notes the inspection must be carried out at a ‘given time’ along with a ‘representative of the trade union involved’ (which would be conveyed to the owner of the premises).
Similarly, search warrants must be executed at ‘a designated time’ by the courts and the tribunal and in the presence of a representative of the labour union involved.
Furthermore, it excludes all provisions that apply to the 1898 Code of Criminal Law (Act V of 1898), which empowers the court to decide criminal proceedings.
However, it preserves the rules empowering the tribunal under the 1908 Code of Civil Procedure (Act V of 1908).
Sources said this would have far-reaching effects as penalties could only be awarded under the Criminal Law Code, 1898, on any offence.