Eyes roll, as the Punjab caretaker government announces plans to combat smog
he caretaker government of the Punjab recently announced three public holidays for schools and colleges, closure of markets on Sunday, and opening of markets and offices only post-3pm on Saturday, in an attempt to check the toxic levels of smog in the province.
The short-term plan also includes doubling water sprinkling in smog-affected areas and reserving The Mall for cyclists on Sunday. This was decided in a high level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi.
Meanwhile, the city chokes under a perpetual haze that is essentially the result of the administration’s past strategies, lack of implementation and departmental politics. The government’s inability to eliminate the root cause of the smog that now envelops the provincial capital every year in September-October is chiefly why we haven’t seen the last of it yet. On the Air Quality Index, the city routinely records dangerously high levels of pollutants.
Following the orders, both public and private schools across six divisions of the Punjab, including Lahore, closed on Friday and Saturday (November 24, 25). Besides, all markets, gyms, shops and cinemas in the city remained shut until 3pm on Saturday. On Sunday (today), a complete lockdown is being observed in the city.
The government has also announced a ban on procurement of fuel-run motorcycles for public officials. Long-term plans include a shift to electric vehicles for public officials, and offering subsidies on electric bikes to 10,000 students.
The government has also made it mandatory for all citizens to wear facemasks in public spaces.
It remains to be seen whether these anti-smog measures will serve the purpose. Since 2016, when Lahore first experienced smog, the government has been unable to combat it.
Long-term plans include a shift to electric vehicles for public officials, and offering subsidies on electric bikes to 10,000 students.
The question arises as to why the government has been unable to get to the bottom of the issue. Why has comprehensive research not been undertaken? It can be argued that instead of closing the educational institutions, markets and offices the authorities should have controlled with the actual causes of smog.
Experts are of the view that the main contributors to lethal emissions in the air are vehicular traffic, at 43 percent; industry, 25 percent; agriculture, 20 percent; and power, 12 percent. Substandard fuel and obsolete automobiles with inefficient engines are among other factors aggravating the situation.
Yet another reason for the poor air quality is the burning of paddy stubble, which usually starts in October in the Punjab, as farmers across the province start preparing the fields for the wheat crop.
All concerned departments and agencies of the government, such as the Lahore Development Authority, the Ravi Urban Development Authority and the Environment Protection Agency have failed to control the unabated deforestation going on across the city in sheer violation of the Lahore master-plan and the mushroom growth of housing societies and the industrial and vehicular emissions.
Talking to the TNS, president of Pakistan Steel Re-Rolling Mills Association Sher Gujjar says that the city administration is confused on the issue. “Practically, most of the mills and factories in and around the cities have been shut on the pretext of emissions of substandard fossil fuels. All this has done is to render scores of workers jobless,” he adds.
Gujjar says that the mills strictly observe the safety measures. “We’ve installed special plants to stop emission of poisonous gases in the air, in consultation with the EPA. But they continue to penalise us, without any rhyme or reason.”
He also talks of the possibility of mill owners going on an indefinite strike against what he regards as “the draconian policies of the EPA.”
The writer is a print and broadcast journalist