No buffer zone, 400 factories loom over residential areas


Sehrish Wasif April 19, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Around 400 industrial plots are located in Sectors I-9 and I-10 despite a ban on pollution causing industries being located in or near residential areas.

A buffer zone was created between the industrial and the residential areas of I-9 and I-10, according to the master plan of the city. However, the buffer zone was later converted into a commercial area. As a result, industries surround the residential areas.

The Capital Development Authority (CDA), in collaboration with Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is planning to establish an industrial zone in Sector I-17, for which land will be acquired by the CDA, according to Ramzan Sajid, CDA spokesman. Currently, the authority is consulting with stakeholders, he added.

Different industries located in these two sectors include steel mills, marble factories, flour mills and others. Hazardous for the environment, they pose enormous health risks to residents living nearby. Steel mills located in these two sectors are a major source of air pollution. According to the documents obtained by The Express Tribune, around eight furnace steel mills located in I-9 and I-10 are the main perpetrators of pollution.

These mills produce steel billets from scrap, a process which requires pressurised heat that results in heavy smoke. These furnaces emit more than one ton of particulate matter each day. Four cement plants are also located in area and emit about 11000 tonnes of particulate matter per year, dispersing fine raw cement dust across several kilometres.

The steel re-rolling mills add to pollution but not to the extent that furnace mills do. Asif Shuja, Director General, Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), said the best possible option is to shift all the mills [in I-9 and I-10] to a new sector, as discussed with the CDA. However, “Though the Authority agreed to this recommendation, no steps have been taken to relocate the factories as yet,” he said.

The mills do not take any environmental protection measures, according to Shuja. All 8 steel mills have installed scrubbers, air pollution control devices that can be used to remove some particulates from industrial exhaust streams, but they do not operate them to avoid high electricity bills, according to sources in the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

Shuja explained that mill owners have installed two types of scrubbers, one is of low quality and cheaper to run, and the other high-quality scrubber is more expensive to operate. “Whenever our team goes for an inspection, the workers immediately switch to using the high-quality scrubber and hide the other one,” he revealed. Malik Aulia, CDA Environment Wing Deputy Director General, said the Authority have limited power when it comes to taking action against those who violate environmental laws. “We can only take action under the CDA Municipal Bylaws and can impose a minor fine of a few thousand rupees,” the sources added.

However, Aulia revealed that an Environment Protection Regulation was being formulated for the CDA and after it is approved, the Authority will be able to take punitive action against violators of environmental regulations. Shuja said Pak-EPA plans to meet with the CDA soon to discuss the industrial zone issue. Shuja said Pak-EPA can impose more than Rs1 million in fines and can also order immediate closure of mills polluting the environment.

In the past, the Agency has issued notices to two steel mills in the industrial area, including Modern Steel and Potohar Steel. Cases against these mills are being tried by the Punjab Environment Tribunal, he added. The Agency has previously taken action against four mills and had closed them down until they installed scrubbers, Shuja said.

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