New Changes in SEPA Act 2014 or a License to ruin Environment

by M. Wasim

“This is not how you run a government, in fact, there seems to be no government in Sindh”. These are the remarks of Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed, while speaking to Advocate General of Sindh on June 15, 2021 during a hearing on illegal construction of a high-rise building in Karachi. The intended new changes in the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) Act 2014 truly verify that there is no government in Sindh, except the absurdity of might is right. As through the introduction of these new regulations, the required procedural and environmental requirements for any mega project will end.

 According to details the Sindh Cabinet has approved a proposal for changes specifically in the Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) / Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Regulations, framed under the Sindh Environmental Protection Act 2014. Against these intended changes an appeal was jointly filed by advocates Shahab Usto and Zubair Ahmed, who termed such intentions mala fide, only to facilitate certain businesses rather than protecting the environment in the province.

Going through the new rules and regulations in SEPA Act 2014, it really seems these changes provide greedy industrialists and builders an absolute license to ruin the environment on the name of “ease to do business”.

Exemption from EIA Report

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report is a fundamental requirement. And, it is followed by all provincial governments and respective environment protection agencies in Pakistan. The report is necessary before starting any project, so that the evaluation of positive and negative impacts on environment could be assessed with it’s help.

However in the new rules, SEPA has exempted industrial and residential projects from Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. It has shifted all such projects from the EIA checklist to Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) checklist. Environmental Lawyer Shahab Ustu, while interpreting this new law, told that the EIA report requires public hearing while the IEE report does not, “which means that the government is authorized to give clean chit to the builders and developers for carrying out their mega projects without consultation of general public.”

New Laws for Housing Socities

In the new regulations, SEPA has eliminated the requirement of an EIA report from builders and developers of high-rise buildings. Before the introduction of SEPA’s new regulations, an EIA report was mandatory for high-rise buildings taller than 15 floors and built on a 2000 square yard or larger plot.

The SEPA has also allowed EIA report of 50-acre land for construction of housing schemes. The limit was set at 10-acre before the introduction of new regulations by SEPA. The SEPA officers said the amendments in regulations are meant to guarantee the ease of business. But Shahab Ustu claims “SEPA has made changes in regulations just to please the builders”.

Violation of Article 19-A

The new SEPA regulations also ignored the need of public consultation. Framing of any new rule and regulation without public consultations is a violation of Article 19-A of the Constitution.

The officials of SEPA also acted in violation of Section 18 of the Act, which required for carrying out the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) of the policies, legislation, plans and programs with consultation of all those concerned, including the general public. On that issue Shahab Ustu told the new rules and regulations or making changes in the existing ones without carrying out the SEA, as provided under Section 18 of the Act, 2014, was unlawful, without authority and ultra vires the Act.

Notwithstanding, the environmental tribunal remarks that new regulations have been approved by the provincial cabinet and therefore, the appeal is “infructuous”, but it restrained the government from notifying and publishing the regulations till August 28.

Shahab Ustu revealed he would also challenge the framing of the new rules and regulations without carrying out Strategic Environmental Assessment as provided under Section 18 of the 2014 Act. While Environment Activist Yasir Hussain who attended the hearing on behalf of civil society said that the entire team is now going to file appeal in the Sindh High Court against the proposed changes in the SEPA Act 2014.


Editorial, Infocus

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