LHC chief justice imposes Smog Emergency Health Action Plan

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LAHORE:  Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah has imposed a Smog Emergency Health Action Plan, after conducting a rigorous hearing of a writ petition filed in public interest to address the issue of smog on November 14.

The petition had been filed on the premise of Article 9 of the constitution which gives a person right to life security, which is being compromised through alarming increase in air pollution in northern Punjab. Justice Shah has ordered an immediate implementation of the action plan which gives specific directives to the relevant authorities if smog touches hazardous levels.

Justice Shah observed that smog levels have touched the highest levels according to Environment Protection Department’s (EPD) Smog Policy.  “No tangible steps were taken by EPD, Health Department or the School Education Department for the protection of the health or safety of residents of Lahore,” he remarked. He maintained that it was ‘disconcerting and disappointing’ on part of these departments.

The court had also called Rafay Alam as amicus curiae for this hearing. Interestingly, he had also brought a portable air monitoring indicator which showed the readings of PM2.5. Particulate matter inside the court was measured as 494 (ug/m3) while that outside the court room was 500 (ug/m3). “The court was shocked to see the readings and asked me to take the readings outside the courtroom too,” he narrated.

A chart showing the value ranges of air quality indicators as published in EPD’s smog policy

As per the smog policy, when PM2.5 concentration rises above 300+ it is considered to be a severe health situation which may cause respiratory impact even on healthy people and serious health impact on people with lung/heart disease and the health impact can be experienced during light physical activity.

Alam, who is a leading environmentalist, said that environmentalists are still not clear about the hazard we are facing in Lahore. “The monitors we have only show the concentration of PM2.5 in the air, we will only get to know the severity of the damage after we start receiving the data about other polluters,” he said. Other air polluters include PM10, CO, SO2, NO2 and O3. Justice Shah directed EPD to post real-time readings of all air polluters on their website every day. An order that has since been implemented by the EPD.

However, even after the rain, the readings of PM2.5 cross alarming levels. For instance, PM2.5 readings for November 15, 17 and 18 at Jail Road, Lahore are 152, 163 and 163 fall in the poor air quality which call for the schools to be shut down, parks to be closed and people to be directed to wear masks.

Alam said that at least a precedence has been set about the actions that should be taken in case smog reaches hazardous levels. The court also observed that no correspondence has taken place between Environment Protection Department of Punjab (EPD), Health department of Punjab and School Education Department.

           If PM2.5 exceeds 141 [µg/m3] the air quality will become very poor and the immediate action plan should be to shut down educational institutions as per LHC’s order

During the hearing, Secretary of Health Department conceded that the health advisories issued by the department, which were later published in print media, were not based on specific research on smog. The representatives of the Environment Protection Department of Punjab (EPD) told the court that at least six air monitoring centers have been installed at different parts of Lahore.

However, Justice Shah questioned the progress of the department in the last year when there is still a hazardous smog covering the city of Lahore, the representatives replied that the department is still analyzing the available data in order to make strategic interventions.

While examining the daily averages collected by the air monitoring machine installed at the MET office Shadman, Lahore, the court observed that the average reading of PM2.5 on November 06 was 358.7 [µg/m3]. Moreover, the air monitoring data submitted from the air monitoring centers at Thokar, University of Engineering & Technology (UET) and Lakhodahar did not have any data regarding PM2.5.

Justice Shah ordered that a revised smog policy that spells out the roles of Health department and school education department should be presented before the court with in three months. The hearing was adjourned till December 18.

 

*The headline of this story has been changed for clarity