Sindh’s first combined effluent treatment plant (CETP), which was built in Kotri SITE Area to stop the release of toxic industrial waste in KB Feeder canal that supplies water to Karachi, remains ineffective. The Sindh High Court (SHC) directed the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) on Friday to expedite investigation in the reference it filed earlier this year against the officials and contractor involved in the plant’s construction.
The directives came during a hearing at the Hyderabad Circuit Bench of nine bail applications filed by as many persons to prevent their arrest by ACE.
ACE sought more time to complete the investigation, telling the court that they have hired a technical expert, Irshad Ahmed Memon, for the probe.
The establishment will be able to fix responsibility on the 11 individuals, including eight officials of Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate Limited and three persons representing the contractor, M/S ARA Joint Venture Karachi, in light of the probe. “… these bail applications are being adjourned as a last and final chance to ACE to complete the investigation,” the bench warned, asking the establishment to furnish a report as well as indictment at the earliest.
ACE registered the FIR on April 2, 2019, in Kotri, Jamshoro district, nominating 11 persons in the case under Sections 409, 420, 467, 468, 477-A, 218 and 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). The case was lodged on the state’s complaint by circle officer, Inayat Ali Qureshi.
According to ACE, the plant was built on the SHC Hyderabad circuit bench’s order in a 2007 petition filed by a resident of Kotri. The former managing director of SITE, Abdul Rasheed Solangi, hired the consultant M/S International Design Group to prepare the PC-1 in coordination with the chief engineer, Abdul Waheed Shaikh.
The PC-1 was approved in April 2010, at a cost of Rs667 million. However, ACE claimed that an agreement signed by SITE Chief Engineer Shaikh with M/S ARA Joint Venture Karachi in June 2010, increased the cost to Rs966.95 million without obtaining approval for the revised cost.
“During the course of inquiry it was found that…there is no benefit [of the project] and it is still incomplete and non-functional,” ACE stated in the FIR, adding that the officers of SITE and the contractor embezzled public funds and failed to construct a proper CEPT.
The bail applicants on their part argued through their counsel that the project was approved and awarded by former MD Abdul Rasheed Solangi who has not been nominated in the FIR. They also named DMD SITE Shamsuddin and consultant Manzoor Mehdi, who were allegedly part of the approval but have not been booked in the FIR either.
Muhammad Muniz Qazi, one of the bail applicants, told the court that he was the finance director of SITE and his responsibility was only to verify the amount of the bills submitted by the contractors. “After verification and approval by the MD, DMD, chief engineer, consultant and auditors, the cheques were issued [to the contractors] bearing the signature of the MD.”
The bail applicants also questioned the delay in registration of the FIR pointing out that the alleged corruption happened in 2010-11 and a complaint to ACE was filed in 2014 but the case was registered in 2019.
Last year, SITE handed over the operational control of the plant to Kotri Association of Trade and Industry (KATI). At an official meeting, KATI Chairperson Asif Memon had alleged that the plant contained design faults and capacity issues. According to him, the standard for treated water of Sindh Environment Protect Agency (SEPA) is 400 chemical oxygen demand (COD). However, the plant is designed to reduce 50 per cent COD of the effluent which it received and Kotri SITE area’s readings show a range between 4,000 to 5,000 COD. It means even after reduction, the COD will remain in the range of 2,000 to 2,500 which is far higher than SEPA’s standard.