By Naeem Sadiq
In September 2009 I wrote to two Sindh government departments seeking harmless information on matters of education and pollution that should anyway be available to all citizens. I was confident that a formal request under the much trumpeted and much ‘seminar’ed Freedom of Information Act will do the trick. The law requires a response within 21 days. When nothing happened for 4 months, in Jan 2010, I approached the Sindh Ombudsman (as suggested in the law) to ask the concerned departments to do the needful.
After digesting my request for 3 months, the Sindh Ombudsman finally asked the concerned departments (Education and Environmental Protection Agency) to appear and explain why they did not provide the information that had been asked for. I too was asked to appear.
So I spent the 1st of April (like a fool) in the Ombudsman’s office, hoping that the real culprits would make an appearance. Nobody turned up and the helpless Ombudsman gave a new date of April 6, for all parties to appear again.
On 6th April I wasted another day waiting in the Ombudsman’s office, but again neither department put in an appearance.
Clearly I was now being given a taste of my own medicine. The Ombudsman could keep calling. I could keep appearing. The departments violating the freedom of information Act could keep not turning up. Life could keep going on as normal.
The Education ministry which was asked questions about the “ghost schools” in Sindh, never turned up before the Ombudsman and never bothered to send any reply. That much about respect for law, the Ombudsman and the Freedom of Info Act.
The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency sent an inadequate response on 4th May 2010. Please see my letter (below) to the Ombudsman on the response of Sindh EPA. The whole thing leaves one quite despondent and frustrated. Here is a dysfunctional government firmly committed to not following any law.
To: Mohtasib-e-Ala Sindh Dated: 04 May 2010
Sindh Provincial Ombudsman Secretariat
Shahra e Kamal Ataturk
From: Naeem Sadiq (citizen)
Your letter: POS/208/10-E/0848
Sindh Environmental Protection Agency not providing information under the Sindh Freedom of Information Act , despite repeated reminders by Ombudsman
1. Thank you for your efforts in asking Sindh EPA to provide information asked by a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act.
2. I regret to say that while the SEPA has completed the formality of responding to your letter, it has sent completely unrelated , unasked and incomplete information. Information was asked for Karachi, but the response and the included appendices largely relate to Kotri. Clearly it means that SEPA is not even interested to read the letter that is asking for information. I am reproducing the exact question asked and the exact response by SEPA below:
Questions asked and SEPA’s responses:
Q.4 Please give the number and names of factories in Karachi which are in full compliance of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS).
Q.5 Please give the number and names of factories in Karachi which are in NOT in full compliance of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS).
As per information provided by SITE Ltd Kotri that 288 industrial plots are allotted for industrial activities and 98 units are in production. But it has been observed physically after conducting monitoring exercise that only 68 industrial units are found functional. This is an example of one site area. Therefore EPA Sindh has prepared a plan PC-II to monitor all the industrial areas located in Karachi to collect physical status of each industry and available facilities to address the environmental issues at their end. Therefore the information pertaining to the queries would be complied at later stage.
Q.6 Please give the number and names of factories that are not compliant with NEQS and have been served notices by your department.
There are 3 major environmental issues being faced by industrial sectors like effluent , solid waste and air emission. In routine activities (monitoring/complaint) of SEPA, if the industries are found violating the rules under PEP ACT 1997, the legal proceeding is initiated accordingly.
You are requested to ask SEPA to provide the information that has been asked for. Where it does not have specific information, it may simply state so, without mixing it up with other cities and other plans.
CC: Director General
Environmental Protection Agency
Government of Sindh
EPA Complex, Plot St-2/1, Sector 23
Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi