Campaign against pollution: Government loses interest in drive to check unfit vehicles

No checks carried out since end of 2012; EPD cites staff, equipment shortage.


Sonia Malik March 20, 2013
The campaign began in November 2011 on the orders of the Lahore High Court. ILLUSTRATION: ANAM HALEEM

LAHORE:


Environmental and transport inspectors have stopped checking vehicles in the city for engine fitness and emissions, bringing already meagre efforts by the government to improve air quality and safety to a complete halt.


Last year, three teams of officials from the Environmental Protection Department, Regional Transport Authority, Transport Department and City Traffic Police monitored traffic at a few locations in the city and pulled up vehicles emitting black smoke.

The campaign began in November 2011 on the orders of the Lahore High Court, in the wake of the deaths of 37 people – most of them schoolchildren – when a bus with failing brakes plunged into a ravine at Kallar Kahar on September 27, 2011.

Three teams were set up and inspections were conducted twice a week during the time the campaign was active. It was help up in May and June 2012, but restarted on the chief minister’s orders in July. Vehicles with unacceptable levels of carbon emissions or noise levels exceeding those provided under the National Environment Quality Standards were fined.

Though with just three teams, inspectors were only able to monitor a small proportion of active traffic in the city at any time, they penalised a significant number of unfit vehicles, handing out over 3,000 fines between July and October, according to

But no inspections have been carried out since December 31, 2012. EPD Secretary Sher Alam Mahsud said that the campaign had been stopped because of a shortage of inspectors. “We cannot afford to run it constantly. We might allow fining of polluting vehicles once a month or so, but the inspectors are also needed at other places,” he said.

Younas Zahid, the deputy district officer (environment) who supervises eight EPD inspectors, said that the inspectors were currently engaged in an anti-dengue drive and in checking polluting factories.

Even while the campaign was active last year, Zahid said, traffic police officials would “make excuses not to show up”. EPD inspectors on their own did not have the authority to impose fines, he said, so enforcement officials needed to accompany them.

City Traffic Officer Sohail Chaudhry said the city police had started a crackdown on public transport buses with poor engines and pressure horns on Friday (March 15), but there was no check on general vehicles. “Eight [traffic] wardens have been assigned the job,” he said.

“We had been short of 800 wardens who were assigned to manage traffic during the construction of the Metro Bus flyover on Ferozepur Road. With them returning, we will gear up the drive against vehicles causing noise and air pollution,” he added.

Azmat Naz, an officer in the emissions control wing of the EPD, said that despite staff shortages, it was essential that checks on unfit, polluting vehicles resume.

She said that the EPD had proposed that more inspectors be hired, but their funding request for such recruitment had not made it into the budget for 2012-13. She said that the department also required noise level meters, gas analysers (used to determine carbon dioxide and monoxide emissions) and Ringlemann charts (for determining the smoke emitting capacity of vehicles). “Only 18 out of the 36 districts of the Punjab are equipped adequately to test vehicles,” she said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2013.

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