LAHORE: A committee tasked with suggesting ways to control air pollution in Punjab has put to test the federal and provincial governments’ seriousness on the matter by proposing that industrial units allegedly contributing heavily to the problem be closed temporarily, according to sources.
The committee was set up by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Wednesday to suggest short-, medium- and long-term measures to reduce pollution in the province.
The urgent measures proposed by the committee included issuance of health and road-use advisories, distribution of masks at public places by the district administration, and clearing of fields where rice had been harvested.
The sources said these proposals were immediately enforced. But the committee’s most important proposal — regarding shutting down of steel furnaces in Lahore, Ferozewala and Sheikhupura for at least three days — has not been implemented yet.
Committee set up by CM proposes temporary closure of furnaces
The sources told Dawn that before stopping production at the many steel mills — of which 600 are located in just north and north-east Lahore — the authorities were assessing the possible fallout of the move because it could lead to large protests.
The more important proposals are included in the short- and medium-term measures which the committee has formulated for submission to the chief minister for approval.
The committee’s report is set to highlight the issue of retrofitting of refineries in the country for production of low-sulphur diesel.
The sources said the federal government had shown “no courage” in making the powerful refineries take corrective measures even though the problem had been identified long ago.
Elaborating, they said that except for one all the refineries were producing diesel which was sending dangerous amounts of sulphur dioxide into the air through machines running on them, mainly trucks, buses and construction machinery.
The exhaust gas turns into sulphuric acid which is the most dangerous acid for everything and everyone on Earth.
Technically, “retrofitting” means adoption of ways and means to produce cleaner diesel. And to ensure this, the federal government introduced a law in 2008 which it has not been able to enforce so far, thanks to the influence of refineries. The enforcement deadline was first extended to 2010, then to 2012 and finally to July 1, 2017.
Other recommendations, which the sources said required “monumental courage” on the part of authorities to implement, included adopting and enforcing European standards for vehicular emissions, mandating all new vehicles to carry catalytic converters (meaning challenging the vehicle manufacturers), and framing policy for phasing out old vehicles.
Developing guidelines and formulating an air pollution index for shutting down of pollution-emitting industrial units, especially in case of smog; improved solid waste collection, mainly in congested urban centres; creation of woodlands around cities; and stabilisation of road shoulders for control of dust are some of the other medium-term measures that have been proposed.
According to the sources, the long-term suggestions include announcement of deadline beyond which no unit could be established outside the industrial estates and implementing a step-wise plan for shifting industrial units from residential areas.
“This has to be done to save ourselves from the killing pollution which we ourselves are producing. Someone will have to bell this cat or else it will soon finish us,” said a government official.
Byline: Intikhab Hanif