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Stop dumping industrial waste in Keenjhar Lake - People’s Tribunal by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum

9 May 2012

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Pakistan Today, 9 May 2012

’Stop dumping industrial waste in Keenjhar’

KARACHI - The People’s Tribunal organised by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) on Tuesday urged the government departments like Fisheries, Irrigation, Wildlife, Tourism and Environment to look into the pouring of highly-contaminated industrial pollution in Keenjhar Lake.

The tribunal comprising Samiul Zaman, District and Sessions Judge Nuzhat Ara Alvi, environmentalist Dr Najam Khurshid and Maryam Majeedi was formed to look in to the recent disaster at Karachi’s only source of drinking water and environmentally protected lake.

“The Keenjhar Lake is a national asset and it is the responsibility of all the stakeholders and the community to protect it” said the tribunal in its first verdict.

The meeting was attended by the relevant government departments’ officials and representatives from the civil society.

Last month, hundreds of dead fish, turtles and several other grazing animals were found floating at the Keenjhar Lake.

Environmentalists and nature conservationists termed the situation as the biggest environmental disaster and expressed grave concern that if the same situation prevailed, the poisonous effects of the industrial waste could shift to Karachi, as the lake is the major source of drinking water for the country’s largest city.

The Keenjhar Lake – Pakistan’s second largest natural freshwater lake – is also a Ramsar site (internationally protected under International Convention on Wetlands) and a protected game sanctuary under the provincial wildlife laws.

During the meeting on Tuesday, People’s Tribunal member Alvi read out the recommendations after hearing arguments from the community and government officials and advised the fishermen to give a one-month notice to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for taking action.

On its failure, the people should file a case before the Environment Tribunal to take action against the people responsible.

The tribunal said that it is the responsibility of the Hyderabad Division commissioner to ensure protection of those who are struggling to protect the lake and facing political pressure in their native areas.

“It is a declared protected zone and should be protected strictly,” the decision stated. “All animal species, including fish, birds, turtles and otters must be protected at all costs.”

The tribunal members asked the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) to pay royalty for the community development at the lake.

“The KWSB gets 1,000 cusecs water daily from the Keenjhar Lake and the fishermen demand royalty for their community development.”

Earlier, the fishing community hailing from different areas of Sindh warned of stopping water supply to the KWSB, if the water utility continues ignoring the freshwater body.

The tribunal members also expressed concern that when certain organisations collected water samples from the lake, they could not involve the local community people.

They said that the reservations of the fisherfolk community should be kept in mind and the issue can be taken up to find a solution.

The Sindh Wildlife Department was advised to design a management plan involving all the stakeholders at the lake, including community people, to avoid any incident in future. Similarly, the Tourism Department should take steps to promote ecotourism and improve the facilities at the lake and ensure that nobody is polluting the freshwater body.

The jury members were of the view that since the lake was an attractive place a few years ago, it should be restored in its natural beauty and all government departments should play their due roles.

Environment scientist Zaman urged upon the people not to be dependant on the government and do their own to protect their resources. He asked the community to collect information through frequent monitoring to see the situation and inform the government departments concerned.
He advised the fisher community that if they do not trust the other organisations, they should bring samples to him themselves and he will arrange the laboratory tests free of charge.

“We will check the water quality to avoid any loss,” he said. “If you want to file a case with the Environmental Tribunal, I will be happy to support you.”
Zaman said there is a procedure for filing a case with the environment tribunal against any industry and before going to the tribunal, the fishermen should write a letter to the EPA, asking them to take action.
PFF Chairperson Mohammed Ali Shah appeared as a community representative before the jury and pleaded the case of Keenjhar Lake.
He said Nooriabad and Kotri industrial areas release their entire waste into the Keenjhar Lake through natural drains and the main Kalri-Baghar Feeder as there is no check on it.

As a result not only the fishermen face joblessness, but also the livestock, wildlife and local environment is under threat, he added.

Shah said that 15 years ago, there were 55 species of fish in the lake and now hardly eight species survive in the freshwater body.

“The Keenjhar Lake may lose its attraction because of pollution like the Manchhar Lake, the PFF chairman said. “The Manchhar Lake also receives poisonous water through the main Nara Canal. Hundreds of fishermen have migrated from their native villages to other waters in search of better livelihood.”

After assessments, it was observed by the tribunal that windmill operators are dumping chemicals into the natural waterways and after rainfall as water streams to the lake, it poisons the fish, turtles, birds and livestock.
After 23 days of the incident, the fishermen from Jhimpir and 12 other adjoining villages have stopped taking water from the lake and are still reluctant to use the water from the affected area.
Sharing the legal issues, barrister Abdul Rehman said that all government departments, including KWSB being the main stakeholders are responsible to save the freshwater body.

He said that the Sindh Wildlife Department had declared Keenjhar Lake as wildlife sanctuary in 1972, but they could not check the situation.

Similarly, the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is authorised to place a ban on the industries polluting the lake, he added.

“Each factory should have an environmental audit and in case the industry is found causing any pollution, they must pay the cost of the disaster,” Rehman said. “We should take the issue to activate environmental audits at all industries and then we can move the case to the environmental tribunal.”

In case a factory is found guilty of violating the law, it should be fined Rs 100,000 per day while the district government can fix the penalty on KWSB, as it gets water for the people of Karachi, he added.

The legal expert said that the immediate solution to the problem could be the stoppage of dumping waste into the lake. “The people have to fight for their rights to save their source of livelihood.”

Ghulam Rasoool Khatri of WWF, Sindh Inland Fisheries Director Ghulam Mujtaba Waddar, Sindh Wildlife Department’s Taj Mohammed Shaikh and Fahmeeda Firdous and Hashim Solangi, Aziz Keenjhrai and Ghulam Rasool Dhandhal from the fisher community pleaded the findings as eyewitnesses.

P.S.

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