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October 5, 2018

Punjab yet to buy air monitors to combat smog


October 5, 2018

LAHORE: With smog season just around the corner in country, particularly in Punjab, the Punjab government is yet to enforce Supreme Court’s directions regarding purchasing 30 Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (AQMS) to combat the hazardous environmental phenomenon, The News has learnt.

The SC in July this year had ordered the Punjab government as well as Environment Protection Department (EPD), Punjab to implement the recommendations of the Smog Commission, formed by then Lahore High Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, (now a sitting judge of Supreme Court) in November 2017.

The Smog Commission had submitted 17 recommendations in its report about measures needed to fight the smog pollution in Punjab. The smog has emerged as a major environmental threat during the past few years with its peak season starting from October till December.

To purchase 30 AQMS for monitoring smog level was the most important among the 17 recommendations, mentioned under the project, “Enhanced Environmental Quality Monitoring Systems for Punjab’s Air, Surface, and Ground Water Resources”.

Out of the total, 25 fixed monitoring stations were to be installed at strategic locations/districts in the province, including eight in Lahore, three each in Faisalabad and Rawalpindi, two each in Multan, Gujranwala, Sargodha and Bahawalpur and one each at Sialkot, DG Khan and Sheikhupura. Similarly, the remaining five mobile monitoring stations were to be installed on mobile vans, containing all requisite accessories, for any emergency.

It is pertinent to mention that currently the EPD has six monitoring stations and they all are installed in Lahore. According to EPD official, some other districts hit by smog also include Gujranwala, Sialkot, Kasur, Faisalabad and Multan. The districts along eastern border with India are most affected due to this static weather condition during the past few years, he explained. Talking to The News, PTI leader and Senior Provincial Minister for Local Government Abdul Aleem Khan said the matter of shortage of air quality monitoring stations in Punjab was discussed with Prime Minister Imran Khan in one of the meetings when he had visited Lahore couple of weeks back. He said the premier had asked the authorities concerned to speed up the process for purchasing the required equipment to combat smog.

The chief minister has also announced establishing Punjab Clean Air Commission for the purpose, he said. Though it was a matter of great concern but, frankly speaking, “The provincial government has no money to purchase the equipment on urgent basis,” he maintained. To a question, the senior PTI leader said the EPD would submit its proposal and the relevant authorities would definitely look into the issue. “During this year’s fiscal budget, some amount might be allocated for the purchase of AQMS,” he said.

Talking to The News, a spokesman of the EPD said the proposal of purchasing the required equipment was in the final stage which would be submitted to the relevant forum for approval very soon. Approximately, he added, the cost of the required imported 30 monitoring stations should be around Rs700 to 800 million. The spokesman said following the SC order of July 2018, the department was working hard to implement the recommendations of the Smog Commission in letter and spirit.

We have sought assistance from the private labs to monitor the smog level in other districts of the province as well, he said, adding, the Environment Department had implemented some of the recommendations whereas work on the remaining ones was also under process.

Following one of the recommendations, the spokesman said, the EPD has written to Foreign Office for making environment part of the agenda whenever the bilateral dialogue would take place with India as Pakistan was being affected badly vis-à-vis smog because of weather condition in the region.

Anticipating the upcoming challenge of smog, he said, the government has imposed a ban on burning chaff as well as halted work on brick kilns. We are also taking actions against the industrial units worsening the smoggy condition across the province.

Similarly, he said zigzag technology was adopted for kilns to stop the smoke emission to prevent smoggy conditions. So far, he added, out of 10,000 kilns in Punjab three to four have been converted to zigzag technology whereas work on around 20 more was in progress. “Due to zigzag technology, 70 percent of the emission of smoke would be reduced and 30 percent fuel efficiency would also be achieved,” the spokesman claimed.

The spokesman said the process of converting steel re-rolling mills and other industry to an environment-friendly was also under process. He said so far some furnace mills as well as some re-rolling mills have fixed the required equipment whereas many more were adopting the same.

Particularly in Gujranwala, he said, no major breakthrough has been achieved yet for transforming the industry to an environment-friendly technology. When asked about establishment of emergency desks by EPD and Health Department Punjab, the spokesman said whenever smog issue is cropped up the desks will be established at the district level across Punjab.

To another query, he said the PM10 is at the standard level of air quality as its current measurement in Lahore has reached 150. If the PM10 crossed the 300 level it will be at the alarming stage, he added. He said if proposal accepted during the upcoming budget next month, the EPD will make sure to purchase equipment within current fiscal year.

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