The Lahore High Court’s ‘green bench’ took up its first case on Thursday and summoned water and environment officials for April 27 for the next hearing of a petition challenging the disposal of untreated wastewater into the Ravi.
The bench, which consists of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and was set up specifically to deal with environmental issues, directed the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to send officials to the next hearing.
The judge also directed the petitioners – the Pakistan Environmental Law Association and the Lahore Conservation Society – to suggest experts for a committee that would assess the seriousness of the pollution problem in the river and recommend solutions.
Petitioners’ counsel Ahmad Rafay Alam submitted that the Ravi was the most polluted river in Pakistan and one of the most polluted in the world. He said the river received wastewater at several points as it flowed past the city, and the rate of dumping was increasing.
In 2002, he said, sewage was discharged into the river at a rate of 12.74 cubic metres per second; by 2017, keeping population growth and industrial activity in mind, it had been estimated that this would increase to a discharge rate of 35 cubic metres per second.
He said the toxic metals had started appearing in the food supply, particularly in areas where water for irrigation was becoming scarce and people were using drain water for irrigation. He said that polluted water degraded the environment and caused waterborne diseases.
Alam asked the court to recognise that access to clean water was a fundamental right. He asked the court to direct the Punjab government and WASA to provide sewage treatment plants that will clean the wastewater being discharged into the river.
He also asked that the Environmental Protection Agency be directed to carry out its responsibilities under the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act and take strict action against persons or industries discharging effluent into sewers and drains. He also asked for the setting up of a commission to investigate the matter.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.