Worries raised at environment hearing
A 33-storey office tower is planned for a 7,487 square yard plot between Schön Circle and Teen Talwar in Clifton, Karachi. It will be called CITI Financial Tower would take five years to build.
It will have parking and an underground tank in the basement, showrooms at the ground and first floors, parking from floors 2 to 10, a recreational area on the eleventh floor, offices—four on each floor—from floors 13 to 31, a top executive office on floor 32 and roof services and a head tank on the 33rd floor.
Its team consists of M/s Parc International as architects, M/s Arif Associates as structure consultants, EMC Pakistan Pvt Limited as consultants, M/s Eleken Associates for electrical and M/s SEM Engineering for mechanical.
As with all such projects, an environmental impact assessment had to be discussed at a public hearing. A public hearing was held at the environment watchdog’s Korangi office in Karachi on September 15.
It was 12:30pm and a big team from the project’s consultants, including its structural, electrical, mechanical engineers and architects, had answered most of the questions from people with great confidence.
An elderly man, Noor Elahi, did not, however, budge.
SEPA Director-General Naeem Ahmed Mughal entered the room and introduced himself. Everyone stood to shake his hand. Noor Elahi spoke then.
He said that SEPA should hold its public hearings at the site for the planned building. It was difficult for the people to come to SEPA’s office in Korangi.
The SEPA office is in Karachi, not outside the city, replied Mughal. It was not in Sohrab Goth or New Karachi. He added that a few people were using these public hearings for their vested interests and had turned them into “siyasi jalsas” to put pressure on the proponents. “Such people disappeared from the very next public hearing after their interest was address,” Mughal added. This is why SEPA decided to hold these hearings at its office.
“I have registered around 80 complaints against violations of construction and environmental rules in different courts,” Noor Elahi said. “…SEPA’s office and even PM House, but no one attended or replied to my complaints.”
Elahi is a retired government officer and an engineer by profession. He said he was studying high-rise buildings in Clifton and had been attending public hearings for the last 10 years. He had been submitting his concerns, but nothing had been done by any department concerned.
“Why are builders constructing both basements and parking areas in their projects and later converting the basements into shops and violating the building rules,” he asked, for example.
Why are the utility agencies, including K-Electric and SSGC, providing connections to commercial and residential projects without verifying their completion plans? High-rise buildings are a threat to Karachi’s drainage system which is already overflowing with sewage and filth. So how is this drainage system going to work for high-rise buildings, he added.
“There are too many hidden things in the projects,” he said. “I have been attending public hearings for the last 10 years to try to find out where the fault lies in the entire system.”
Elahi added that there was a nexus between stakeholders and builders who were violating environmental and construction laws.
SEPA’s DG asked the builders some questions. Did they get an NoC from the traffic police? Did they get permission from residents living in the neighborhood for a commercial project? What is this plot’s category?
Do they have a plan for an Reverse Osmosis plant?
The traffic consultant for Citi Enterprises, Mubashir Moin, replied that they have assessed morning and evening peak hour traffic flows at 450 vehicles which would go up with the construction of the tower.
The team said it was not a commercial plot by birth. In 2013, the former Sindh Building Control Authority DG, Manzoor Qadir aka Kaka, had declared 28 roads in Karachi commercial. They had previously been residential.
The CITI team said most of the residential units had been vacated in the neighborhood of the commercial project. But the DG contradicted this claim and said there were three residential projects just behind the tower’s proposed plot. The Environmental Impact Assessment report states that they are Al-Habib Arcade, Kehkashan Tower and Sasi Royal Residency just at the back side of this project. In fact, the EIA report mentions that these residents have expressed deep concerns over the proposed construction of a commercial tower just in front of their homes.
“The residents expressed their concerns in a way that the construction of a high-rise commercial tower would block air and ventilation. Dust arising from construction would affect asthma patients in the area,” the EIA report stated.
The DG then said that the authority would recommend a proper NoC from the traffic police, proper arrangements for untreated water and redressal for the concerns of the residents.
“SEPA would write letters to the residents and also seek verification from the SBCA and other utilities agencies regarding the authenticity of the NoCs being issued to the proponent,” he said.
During the hearing, environmental expert Saquib Ejaz Hussain brought up the point that the EIA report does not take into account the cumulative effect of construction that intensified in Civil Lines during the years after it was placed in a high-density zone category.
He says the EIA has failed to address the criticality of the weak structure of the sub-soil which needs protection given the extensive load that it would have to bear for such a project. This neighbourhood sits on land whose soil is mainly silty sand, hard clayey silt, highly weathered and fractured limestone, sandstone and clay stone.
He pointed out that KW&SB won’t be able to supply water so the tower would need to extract groundwater without even realising that the effect this would have on the aquifers in the coastal area of Clifton and DHA. Continuous water extraction is likely to lead to subsidence of the soil or sinking.
He said in project EIA report the project’s consultant has already admitted that the traffic flow would be completely choked between Teen Talwar and Schon circle by 2025.