Smog season brings around rundown policies of past

Same plans are being touted by Punjab government whose implementation of past smog-related policies is questionable


Muhammad Ilyas October 21, 2021
Smog hangs in the air around Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. PHOTO: ABID NAWAZ/EXPRESS

LAHORE:

Regular as clockwork, smog will soon be a consistent part of the lives of the residents of one of the busiest cities in the country, for the entirety of winter.

The smoky fog, which reduces visibility and is hazardous to human health, demands a well thought out strategy beforehand to reduce it. However, like every winter much of the same plans are being touted by the government whose implementation of past smog-related policies is questionable.

Air quality levels have already deteriorated rapidly in various cities of the country’s most populous province including its capital, Lahore, where an Air Quality Index (AQI) reading of 376 was recorded recently.

The government in response has declared smog a natural disaster and enacted Section 144, of the Code of Criminal Procedure, on burning crops and garbage including plastic and rubber. The section empowers district administrations to ban an activity in the public interest. Furthermore, all factories across the province that use rubber as a fuel will be shut down and smoke emitting vehicles will be taken off the roads.

However, despite the precautions it might be too little too late. According to a source in the Punjab Environment Protection Department (EPD), apart from industrial pollution, transport which accounts for 43% of smog, has become difficult to control.

Responding to a question, an official of the EPD stated that they had prepared a large-scale plan to deal with traffic contributing to smog under which Safe City Authority surveillance cameras would be used to identify smoke emitting vehicles and would be fined heavily. As per the EPD’s own figures some 1,719 vehicles had been ticketed in the past 20 days.

“A campaign will also be launched in other major cities where cameras are installed and in cities where cameras are not available a ground campaign against smoky vehicles will be launched,” he informed. However, he failed to provide a timeline on when these initiatives would come into action indicating a lack of urgency regarding the matter.

Lahore Chief Traffic Officer Muntazir Mehdi, providing reassurances, said that enforcement work was being carried out by the police and action was being taken against vehicles. “We are developing a software so that the Safe City Authority can issue e-challans against the emitting vehicles and initiate legal action,” Mehdi informed. He did not state when the software would be rolled out or how sure the department was on its success in curbing smog.

Another major polluter, brick kilns, about 7,900 of them operating on old manual methods, have been given warnings that if they do not convert to the eco-friendly zigzag technology they will be shut down, as per the EPD. But the EPD did not provide any additional information on other measures that had been taken to ensure that kiln owners followed the orders as similar warnings in past winter seasons have been paid no heed to and brick furnace owners continue business as usual.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2021.

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