Annual issue 2018

By | Newsbeat National | Published 4 months ago

After only the gods know how many millennia, the water of the ‘sacred’ pond that lies amid the ancient Katasraj Temples in Chakwal, ran dry. According to Hindu mythology, the pond was filled after Shiv broke into tears because of the grief of losing Sita. So for endlessly unknown years the myth grew and the Katasraj Temples and their pond became a site of pilgrimage. And then suddenly, things changed. The pond dried up, or to be more specific, its water had been siphoned off. And so, when the visitors from abroad, and those from within the country, arrived for their annual pilgrimage to the Katasraj Temples, some bringing their children and grandchildren for the first time to introduce them to the magnificience of the architectural spiritual edifices and their reflections in the blessed pond, they were mortified.

This, courtesy the cement-producing factories being established in the vicinity of the temples, which have been drawing the water from the pond to use for their own manufacturing needs.

Now, a similar situation is about to arise in Balochistan, with the establishment of the country’s largest cement production plant, Dera Ghazi Khan cement (DG), which is scheduled to start functioning soon, near Gadani, Hub – Balochistan’s industrial zone.

As a result, the approximately 250,000 people who reside in the area, are likely to be adversely affected by the water scarcity and environmental degradation that will invariably occur.

Lasbela, the ‘industrially poor’ district, started attracting industrialisation after the Government of Balochistan introduced the concept of ‘tax free industrialisation’ in the province. The industrialisation process first began in the province when, in 1976, the Uthal Industrial and Trading Estate was established, with 152 plots of different sizes earmarked for setting up potential industries. However, that failed to become a launching pad for such ventures. In 1982, the Hub Industrial and Trading Estate was established, comprising the largest number of plots.

And in 1989, another attempt was made to invigorate industry in Balochistan with the establishment of the Winder Industrial and Trading Estate, consisting of 240 plots.

Now there are around 150 functional industries in Hub which are regulated and looked after by the Lasbela Industrial Estate and Development Authority (LIEDA).

Hub today is, in fact, a location much favoured by multinational companies seeking to establish their headquarters, since it lies adjacent to Karachi, thus enabling the factories easy access to the sea port for international trade. Apart from the industries regulated by LIEDA, the tiny town is engulfed by other gigantic industries, such as Attock, Hubco, BYCO and of late, the newly built DG Khan factory. The 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant will start functioning in the near future, inevitably exacerbating environmental and health issues for the residents of the area.

Undoubtedly, in order to cater to the needs of projects being developed under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a factory with a large capacity to produce cement is absolutely crucial. It is for this purpose that the DG Khan Cement Company has initiated the construction of the country’s largest cement-producing plant at Hub, which is one of the routes through which the economic corridor will pass. The newly constructed plant will have the capacity to produce 10,000 tons of cement per day, for use both in CPEC projects and the domestic market.

The DG Khan Cement Factory first started functioning in 1978, under the control of the State Cement Corporation of Pakistan (SCCP), and by 1986 it had started producing 2,000 to 6,700 tonnes of cement per day. Later, in a bid to enhance its capacity further, the company established another plant at Khairpur. And with the new initiative in Hub, the DG Khan Cement Company has firmly secured its place as the country’s leading cement plant.

If seen through the economic lens, the benefits that will accrue once the factory starts production in Hub, cannot be denied. But these benefits will undeniably be garnered at a huge environmental and human expense. The inevitable consequences: water scarcity and the emission of toxic gases that are deleterious to health.

As locals became aware of the fact that the DG cement plant had acquired land in Winder to extract water from there to feed its needs, the people of the area took to the streets in Winder, to protest against the sale of land to settlers who were not from the district. But whether this will have any impact in halting the water extraction process is questionable. “The company has surveyed the location (in Winder) and selected the points from where water will be sucked up through the borings it plans to install,” disclosed a factory worker on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Hub Dam, on which the residents of Karachi, agriculturists, industrialists and the water tanker mafia rely for their water needs, grows unreliable with the passing of each day. Due to uncertain weather patterns and climate change, the dam is increasingly unable to provide enough water to meet requirements.

“The company is now [illegally] using a canal emanating from the Hub Dam to fulfil its water requirements,” said the DG Khan factory worker. And while environmentalists have also tried to lodge protests, their efforts have not yet borne any sustainable fruit. “We managed, with the help of the local administration, to stop the industry’s activities for some months, but now work there has resumed,” lamented a social activist, who wished to remain anonymous.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Balochistan has not effectively tackled environment-related issues affecting the province. This despite the fact that any firm or industry initiating a project is bound by both, the Pakistan Environment Protection Act, 1997 and by section 15(1) of the Balochistan Environment Protection Act 2012, to submit an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report before it begins operations.

“It is impossible for any industry or firm to get a NOC for initiating operations, unless it fulfils the requirement by which it is bound – ie until it submits an EIA report,” stated Mohammad Khan, Regional Deputy Director, EPA Balochistan. “The DG Khan cement factory has submitted its EIA report and the EPA has reviewed it,” he continued. The tacit implication thereby being that the project has been approved irrespective of its environmental fallout.

The CPEC has spawned numerous projects – ranging from small ones to mega industries – in Balochistan. One of these, a coal-fired power plant, has also received a sizeable amount of attention. The plant is being constructed by the China Power International Company in collaboration with Hubco. The former speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, Aslam Bhootani, is spearheading the opposition to the project and is mobilising civil society to bring the initiative to a halt, by making the wider public aware of the health hazards caused by emissions from a coal-fired power plant .

According to a research paper in the International Journal of Current Trends in Science and Technology, on the findings of tests conducted to measure the level of water pollution around the JK Cement factory located in Indian Administered Kashmir, seven water springs around Khrew, and the industrial area of Pulwama District, have been polluted since the establishment of the factory in 1979. And, according to the research, due to the polluted drinking water, the death ratio in Khrew is much higher than that of other areas in the vicinity.

The article adds that JK Cement, with a daily production capacity of 8,000 tons, emits around 100,000 tons of toxic fumes and other poisonous gases per day. Similarly, the capacity of DG Cement is 10,000 tonnes per day. If this is combined with the production of Attock (Lucky) Cement, which yields approximately 7,000 tonnes or more per day, the amount of toxic fumes and poisonous gases emitted can only be imagined.

While industrialisation is imperative to bolster economic development, particularly in underdeveloped regions, protecting the environment is, arguably, more important. For this, EPA Balochistan has to ensure that the industrialists setting up mega (potentially eco-threatening) projects, conform to internationally accepted environment-friendly practices. After all, without human health and survival, development has no purpose.