Citizens called for penalties on industrial units dumping harmful waste into the city’s water courses at a public hearing here on Tuesday of a report on wastewater treatment by the River Ravi Commission.
The River Ravi Commission was set up by the Lahore High Court last April to explore solutions to the problem of pollution in the River Ravi. After several months of deliberation, the commission recommended that a bioremediation site based on artificial wetlands be set up to treat wastewater at Babu Sabu, similar to the Bioremediation Garden and Orchard in Islamabad. Bioremediation is the use of micro-organism metabolism, plants and enzymes to remove pollutants from water.
Members of the commission discussed their working and then opened up to questions at the hearing at the Environmental Protection Department’s head office in Gaddafi Stadium.
Citizens raised several objections to the handling of polluting industries by the authorities. Hafiz Masood, a resident of Awan Town near the Babu Sabu Interchange, said that according to his research, some 12,000 small scale industrial units were dumping liquid, solid, chemical and medical waste into the River Ravi.
He said that no action was being taken against these units and demanded that the commission address this issue.
He said a report of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research showed Lahore’s groundwater contained 300 parts per billion (ppb) of total dissolved substances (TDS), whereas the World Health Organisation recommended that this be no more than 30 ppb.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, the secretary of the commission, said that 1,200 to 1,400 units, not 12,000, were dumping waste into the river and these had been issued notices by the Environment Protection Department.
Imrana Tiwana of the Lahore Bachao Tehreek also questioned what was being done to hold industrialists responsible for dumping waste into the river.
Rabia Nadir, another participant, said that the commission’s proposal of establishing a small bioremediation plant at Babu Sabu as a pilot project would not solve the problem. “The root cause of sanitation issues is not being addressed here. A more holistic approach is required,” she said.
Asad Aziz, a professor with the Department of Management at Colorado State University, said that the commission should focus more on preventive measures. He said if the setting up of septic tanks in housing societies such as DHA could rid wastewater of half its pollutants, as stated by Ali Hasnain Syed of WWF-Pakistan in an earlier presentation, the Lahore Development Authority should get all housing societies to install septic tanks.
Questions were also raised regarding the financing of the pilot project, which will cost Rs45 million.
Ali Habib, director general of WWF-Pakistan, admitted that this was a problem. He said the commission had held meetings with the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry and sought financial help. “They are still in the process of being convinced,” he said.
The minutes of the public meeting are to be submitted to the Lahore High Court at the next hearing of the River Ravi pollution case on January 18. Alam, who is representing the petitioners, said that he would ask the LHC to push the chamber to provide financial assistance.
Habib added that public participation was key. “The public should participate in providing the solution, maybe by volunteering to plant vegetation on the pilot site. One cannot expect too much of Wasa. They cannot even afford to pay their electricity bills,” he said.
Another participant questioned whether the crops grown at the bioremediation site would be fit to eat.
Dr Aashiq Muhammad of the National Agricultural Research Centre said that the water quality at the bioremediation site in Islamabad was monitored constantly. “The water there is cleaner than the water of Rawal Lake,” he said.
Erum Aftab, an environment lawyer, proposed that an environmental impact assessment study be conducted for the project to engage communities residing near the Babu Sabu site in order to avoid future legal challenges. Dr Kausar Abdullah Malik, the commission’s chairman, said this was not necessary as there was no major settlement within a few kilometres of the site.
Naseemur Rahman Shah, an assistant director at the EPD, said that India was supposed to release as much as 15 per cent of the Ravi’s water to maintain its ecosystems, but it was not discharging any water into the river. “This needs to be dealt with,” he said.
Sheikh Anwar Rasheed, the new EPD secretary, Irrigation Secretary Khalid Masood Chaudhry, and Syed Umair, the chairman of the environmental committee of the LCCI and a member of the commission, did not attend the hearing.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2013.