Nerves of steel: Workers protest sealing of steel mill

Mills sealed for using dirty fuel, officials say they must install scrubbers.


Express January 17, 2012

LAHORE:


Some fifty workers protested on Tuesday outside a steel rerolling mill sealed for violating environmental laws, demanding that it be reopened so they could get back to their jobs.


Muhammad Ashraf, the owner of the mill in Sadiqpura, said it was sealed on January 13 for using coal and tyres as fuel. He said the mill had been forced to resort to burning coal and tyres as the gas supply had been cut off for the winter.

He said that if the mill remained sealed, it would hurt 200 workers and their families. “There is a shortage of gas but we have to run our mill,” he said. “The closure has already affected the livelihoods of our workers”.

Ashraf said that he had submitted a written apology to the local government and Tariq Zaman, the district officer (environment), had accepted the apology. He alleged that Younis Zahid, the deputy district officer (environment), was demanding a bribe to reopen the mill. “We have been asked to submit Rs20,000 in order to ensure the de-sealing even though we have received approval from Zaman,” he said.

Zahid denied the allegations. “They are baseless,” he said. He added that Zaman had not allowed the reopening of the mill, but merely asked him to investigate the case. He said the gas supply to the mills in Sadiqpura had recently been cut off for two months owing to the gas shortage. The mill had been sealed for using coal as well as used tyres as fuel.

“If they want to use coal as fuel, the mills must install scrubbers that wash away un-burnt carbon particles and hazardous gases from their emissions,” Zahid said. “We understand their situation, but cannot let them operate their mills at the cost of the health of the population. Lung diseases have been spreading in the area.”

He said that Sadiqpura residents had complained about the noxious emissions from the mills and around a dozen had been sealed for violating emissions standards. “Mills must operate within environmental and health standards, even in industrial areas,” he said.

Ashraf, the mill owner, said that he had assured the Environmental Protection Department that the mill would install scrubbers over the next couple of months.

District Officer (Environment) Zaman said that the mill had been sealed along with seven others for using tyres as fuel. He said that earlier the district government had not been acting against factories using coal as fuel because they had no other fuel sources.

The decision to stop the practice was taken after all the factories in the area started using tyres as fuel. Zaman said that the mill would be reopened on Wednesday, but it would not be allowed to burn tyres.

“From now on, no one will be allowed to burn tyres. Those using coal must install scrubbers as soon as possible,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2012. 

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