Punjab’s fight against pollution marred by ‘lavish waste of money’ | Pakistan Today

Punjab’s fight against pollution marred by ‘lavish waste of money’

  • EPA not measuring rising pollution levels on excuse of unavailability of equipment as state-of-the-art machinery worth millions being kept entirely useless

While the world is putting efforts in to mitigate the hazardous effects of rising environmental pollution, authorities in Pakistan – where pollution levels have already been far higher than the international standards – seem reluctant or inept to deal with the issue with seriousness.

Let alone other provinces, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in Pakistan’s largest province Punjab has miserably failed to measure rising pollution levels on the lame excuse of unavailability of sufficient equipment to record the various pollutants, Pakistan Today has learnt.

On the one hand, Punjab’s EPA has demanded more funds to update its lab systems, but on the other hand it lacks willingness to utilise its available resources which are sufficient to measure the pollutants.

“Despite having laboratories and all necessary equipment provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the EPA has been unable to maintain the data of the various air pollutants for the past many years,” said an EPA official on the condition of anonymity, raising the suspicion that the agency could enhance regulatory compliance and environmental management.

In 2005, the Ministry of Environment had, in collaboration with the JICA, started a project, “Establishment of Environmental Monitoring System in Pakistan”, to strengthen the monitoring capacity of the federal and provincial environment protection agencies, but after the departure of JICA officials in 2011, the EPAs just kept the equipment for rusting instead of using them to test environmental samples.

Per reports, Punjab’s EPA had received 104 different equipment from the JICA – including three air quality monitoring stations, atomic absorption spectrometer (AAS), gas chromatograph (GC), multi gas analyser (Pg-250) and ion chromatograph (IC) – which were sufficient to test environmental samples, as the agency had earlier with the collaboration of JICA till 2010 tested thousands of environmental samples and succeeded in achieving the required goal to test 98 parametres.

“These equipment available with the EPA are worth Rs 750 million but they are not being used to test any environmental samples even though a huge sum of money was spent on their repairs in the year 2014,” the EPA official said, adding that “the efficiency and efficacy of environment laboratories was intentionally downgraded to medium-scale capacity”.

According to information gathered by Pakistan Today, a number of irregularities have been detected in Punjab’s EPA which might be considered “criminal negligence” of EPA officials.

Available with the EPA, the Atomic Absorption Spectrometre (AAS) worth Rs 12 million is used to test and measure the heavy metals from environmental samples. It has the capacity to test at least 10 samples on a daily basis. In June 2014, the EPA spent Rs 2 million on its repairs, but left it for rusting after testing a few samples.

The EPA’s equipment Gas Chromatograph (GC), having an asset value of Rs 12 million, has the capacity to test eight environmental samples of pesticides in wastewater and drinking water per day. The agency got it repaired in June 2014 for Rs 1.8 million, but kept it useless as no reported tests have been performed till date, according to sources.

Another equipment called multi-gas analyser (Pg-250) having an asset value of Rs 7.5 million which the EPA got repaired in 2014 after spending Rs two million is also laying useless. It can be used to test two industrial chimneys on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the EPA procured PG-350 worth Rs 7.5 million with the same functions and as a result the Pg-250 has been relegated to limbo.

The EPA had another Atomic Absorption Spectrometre (AAS) worth Rs 10 million at its Multan lab for metal analysis which was retrieved from the Punjab University. The EPA is keeping this equipment entirely useless as well.

Interestingly, the EPA in June 2016 procured equipment called Inductive Couple Plasma (ICP) for Rs 18 million to test metal in environmental samples despite the fact that it already had Atomic Absorption Spectrometres available at its Lahore and Multan laboratories for the purpose. This new equipment is also being kept useless as no test has been analysed on it so far, according to sources.

It may be mentioned here that a complaint has also been lodged with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) regarding irregularities made in the procurement of Inductive Couple Plasma (ICP).

The EPA also spent an amount of Rs 8 million on repairs of three Air Quality Monitoring Stations (AQMS) worth Rs 100 million in 2014. These AQMS remained functional till May 2014, as EPA officials later procured an Airpointer for Rs 21 million, claiming that the JICA-based equipment was obsolete while the Airpointers were based on modern technology.

According to sources, there are other hundreds of state-of-the-art equipment in EPA’s Lahore lab which are being kept entirely useless. “These pieces of equipment are sufficient to give up to the mark performance, but EPA officials have intentionally kept these useless so that they can purchase new ones,” sources claimed.

When this scribe approached Chief Analyst Ali Abbas and asked him to provide the data of test reports of environmental samples conducted during the past couple of years, he denied and referred to Monitoring Lab and Implementation (ML&I) Director Tauqeer Qureshi.

When contacted, Tauqeer just shrugged it off simply saying the department was preparing and compiling the test reports of the various pollutants.

Pakistan Today also tried to contact EPA Director General Dr Javed Iqbal, but he was not available for comments despite repeated calls.

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