A Rs 400-million project, ‘The Environment Laboratories Project’, of the Punjab Environment Protection Department (EPD) which was supposed to monitor and test the quality of air, soil and drinking water has proven a failure due to substandard equipment which is unable to provide the correct results, Pakistan Today has learnt reliably.
The EPD launched a project named ‘Establishment of Environmental Laboratory at Gujranwala, Sialkot, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Murree and Rahim Yar Khan’ in July 2007. For the purpose, the department imported lab equipments from countries like the US, the UK and Australia. However, sources revealed that there was no bidding or transparency in the purchase of such equipments.
Sources further revealed that the imported equipments turned out to be of low quality.
THE EXTENT OF INSTITUTIONAL FAILURE:
The labs established in seven districts of Punjab never became fully functional and didn’t serve any purpose. Sources said most of the lab equipment was substandard and the matter had been under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Department since 2011. However, they added that while not all the equipment was substandard but the faulty equipment is harming the working of even the good quality equipment. For example, the APEX instruments are considered advanced enough to test particulate matters and air quality. But EPD failed to get the proper output from these instruments because of other faulty instruments.
Sources further said that an amount of more than Rs 200 million was spent on importing and installing of lab instruments while an amount of Rs 160 million has been spent on salaries since 2011.
Any new business is required to obtain an NOC from the Environment Protection Department as per section 11 of Punjab Environment Protection Act (PEPA), 1997.
But sources said that right now the department has no proper mechanism to maintain a check on those violating the environmental regulations. The EPD has issued thousands of NOCs to businesses but is unable to keep monitoring on monthly basis.
FURIOUSER AND FURIOUSER:
The said labs were initially designed to test 58 National Environment Quality Standard (NEQS) parameters out of a total of 102 NEQS parameters. However, due to substandard equipments these labs are not able to test more than 10 NEQS parameters. But despite the fact that the lab results were incorrect, the EPD kept on issuing NOCs to the applicants.
Sources said that the department’s negligence continued as it remained reluctant to purchase new equipment to upgrade the labs.
“As per Environmental Lab Certification Rules of the EPD, the department is responsible for release of funds to procure the necessary equipment,” source added.
Sources alleged that Director ML&I was responsible to keep the laboratories up to date but he is more busy in departmental politics.
Pakistan Today tried to contact EPA’s Director Monitoring Laboratory & Implementation (ML&I) Tauqeer Qureshi but he was not available for comment.
Pakistan Today also tried to contact Environment Minister Zakya Shahnawaz. She was not available for comment either.