KARACHI, March 23: The federal government appears to be reluctant to fill a key post in the Sindh Environmental Protection Tribunal despite the fact that the post has been vacant for about nine months, it emerged on Wednesday.
Under the law, environmental protection tribunals comprise a chairman — a person who is qualified for appointment as a judge of the high court — and two members, to be appointed by the federal government.
At least one member shall be a technical person with suitable professional qualifications and experience in the environmental fields.
At present, the Sindh Environmental Protection Tribunal comprises its chairperson Ashraf Jahan and a member (legal), Abdul Karim Memon.
The tribunal has been functioning without a technical member for the past eight-and-a-half months after the two-year contract of its technical member, Dr Samiuzzaman, expired on July 10, 2010.
Unlike the case of Mr Memon — whose contract expired in June last but was promptly extended for another two years by the authorities — the government did not bother to extend the contract of the then technical member.
Although a provision of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA), 1997 allows the tribunal to hear cases/complaints in the absence of one of the two members, legal experts believed that this could not be made a routine practice.
Section 20 (3) of the PEPA, 1997 reads: “For every sitting of the environmental tribunal, the presence of the chairperson and not less than one member shall be necessary”.
Expressing serious concerns over the prolonged absence of the tribunal`s technical member, the legal experts said that both the chairperson and the member (legal) had a legal background while the nature of complaints being tried by the environmental tribunal was technical, thus some technical questions were bound to come up during the proceedings.
They, therefore, felt that the absence of a technical member for the past many months would be against the principle of natural justice.
Senior lawyer and a member of the Pakistan Bar Council Zia Awan opined that the government was not paying attention to the issues of the environment.
The absence of a technical member would affect the whole exercise of the tribunal, he added.
Mr Awan said that the presence of both the members of the tribunal should be made mandatory through an amendment to the PEPA, 1997.
Another senior lawyer and vice chairman of the Sindh Bar Council, Iftikhar Javed Qazi, said that the government must immediately appoint the technical member of the tribunal, adding that it would be unfair to keep this post vacant.
Public Prosecutor Abdul Maroof, who represents the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency before the tribunal, said that the proper interpretation of Section 20 (3) of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 was that in the presence of the chairperson and a member, the tribunal could occasionally take up complaints for hearing, but the object of the law would be defeated if the entire case/complaint was tried in the absence of the a technical member.
He also criticised a move of the federal environmental protection agency of asking Sepa to recommend a name for the technical member of the tribunal and said that it would be unfair and against the interest of justice since Sepa acted as a complainant in most of the cases.
The environmental protection tribunals have been set up under Section 20 of the PEPA, which was promulgated in 1997 for protection, conservation, rehabilitation and improvement of the environment, prevention and control of pollution and promotion of sustainable development.