–Govt officials deny failure to implement smog commission’s findings, blame Indian farmers for pollution
LAHORE: Punjab government’s claims of making efforts for controlling smog fell short when pollutants once again engulfed several areas of the province, including the capital.
Government officials, on the other hand, are blatant in their denial of their failure to implement the findings of the smog commission, as they continue to blame Indian farmers for the recent spell of smog in Punjab.
A day earlier, Air Quality Index in Lahore had reached 484 at 10am, adding that the threshold for hazardous level of air quality was 300. The index warned that the soupy air in Lahore is hazardous to breathe, especially for young children. Another index ranked Lahore as the second most polluted city in the world.
Haziness, and nose and eye irritation is a clear indication of the beginning of the phenomenon which has been pestering Lahore and other cities of Punjab in October and November for the past few years.
Amnesty International also blamed the Punjab government for exposing people to hazardous air risks in violation of their human rights to life and health.
Health experts warn that if the air quality continues to deteriorate, the average lifespan would be shortened and a series of health problems will arise for the residents of Pakistan’s most populous province.
Smog first engulfed Lahore in November 2016 and culminated only after a spell of rainfall. The citizens panicked after facing a phenomenon which was previously unknown to them and urged the government to act before it becomes a serious health hazard.
INCOMPETENCE OR CORRUPTION?
In 2017, after a number of petitions were filed by citizens against the concerned government departments and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered the formation of a smog commission.
The commission released its report in May 2018, wherein it was suggested that there was a dire need for immediate actions to prevent reemergence of smog in winter. The commission also stated that EPA should install at least 10 stations to monitor air quality immediately and 20 later on.
However, EPA failed to meet the recommendations of the commission could only install nine monitoring stations in different cities of the province.
According to sources familiar with the matter, only one out of the nine monitoring stations was producing accurate results. They also said that EPA had also failed to compile any accurate data about air quality in the province.
Sources further said that in 2017, when EPA allegedly procured substandard equipment for the station, a number of citizens filed complaints against the authority and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is still looking into the matter.
On the condition of anonymity, an official familiar with the details of the scandal, said that former director laboratories Tauqeer Qureshi, who is now the director of EPA, was responsible for procurement of substandard equipment.
The official said that vehicular emissions are the primary cause of smog in the province. “It is the responsibility of EPA to keep a check on vehicular emissions but they are more concerned about industries and brick kilns. They have turned a blind eye towards more serious mattes,” the official said.
Another source offered a conflicting version of the situation. The source said that while the air quality is being accurately measured, the EPA is intentionally revealing better air quality so as to avoid tussle with industrialists and brick kiln owners.
When contacted, Qureshi said that best air quality monitors were procured by the authority in 2017 and NAB cleared them of allegations as well.
“We are doing our best to control this issue in Punjab but as we know smog cannot be predicted,” he added.
Speaking to this scribe, EPA Spokesperson Mian Ijaz said that the authority is monitoring the situation. “We are issuing fines over excessive vehicular emissions at the entry and exit points of Lahore. Moreover, our teams are keeping a check on pollution in nine towns of the city,” he said.
Photo by Zubair Mehfooz