LAHORE: Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice (CJ) Mansoor Ali Shah has imposed a Smog Emergency Health Action Plan, after rigorous hearing of a writ petition filed on November 14 in public interest to address the issue of smog in Northern Punjab.
The petition had been filed under Article 9 of the constitution which gave a person the right to life and security. Unfortunately, the same were being compromised as an alarming increase in the level of pollution in northern Punjab have been witnessed in the recent past.
Justice Shah had ordered an immediate implementation of the action plan which gave specific directives about the actions that should be taken by the relevant authorities if smog touched hazardous levels.
Justice Shah observed that the smog levels in the province had already touched the highest level. “No tangible steps were taken by the Environment Protection Department (EPD), Health Department or the School Education Department for the protection of the health of the residents of Lahore,” he remarked. Justice Shah maintained that it was ‘disconcerting and disappointing’ on part of the relevant departments to turn a blind eye towards environmental hazards created by smog.
The court had also called Rafay Alam as amicus curiae for this hearing. Interestingly, he had also brought a portable air monitoring indicator which showed the readings of dangerous particulate matter PM2.5. Particulate matter inside the court was measured as 494 (ug/m3), while that outside the courtroom was 500 (ug/m3). “The court was shocked to see the readings and asked me to take the readings outside the courtroom too,” Alam said.
Per the smog policy, when PM2.5 concentration rises above 300, it is considered to create dangerous health situation which could cause respiratory diseases and have serious health implications for people with lung/heart disease, by affecting their physical activity.
Rafay Alam said that we are still not clear about the hazard we are actually facing. “The monitors we have only show the concentration of PM2.5 in the air. We will only get to know the level of damage after we start receiving the data regarding pollution,” he said.
According to him, other air polluters included, PM10, CO, SO2, NO2 and O3. Justice Shah directed EPD to share air pollution readings on their website every day. The order had been implemented by the department ever since.
The recent rains in Punjab have also not helped control air pollution as recent readings of PM2.5 crossed alarming levels. For instance, PM2.5 readings for November 15, 17 and 18 at Jail Road, Lahore were 152, 163 and 163. Due to poor air quality in the city, schools were usually shut down to keep children safe, as people were also directed to wear face masks.
Alam said that at least a precedence had been set regarding the actions that should be taken in case smog reached hazardous levels.
The court also observed that no correspondence had taken place between EPD, Punjab Health Department and School Education Department.
The health department secretary also conceded that the health advisories issued by the department and later published in the print media were not based on concrete research findings on smog.
The representatives of EPD told the court that at least six air monitoring centres have been installed at different parts of Lahore.
However, Justice Shah questioned the progress of the department in the last year when smog had engulfed the entire city of Lahore. On this the representatives replied that the department was still analysing the available data in order to make strategic interventions.
While examining the daily averages collected by the air monitoring machine installed at the MET office Shadman, the court observed that the average reading of PM2.5 on November 6 was 358.7 [µg/m3].
Moreover, the air monitoring data submitted from the air monitoring centres at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Thokar and Lakhodahar did not have any data regarding PM2.5.
Justice Shah ordered that a revised smog policy explaining the roles of the health department and education department should be presented before the court within three months. The hearing was adjourned till December 18.