Smog ignored?

The government does not seem serious

Smog might be a god metaphor for the many crises afflicting the state, both open and hidden. Unfortunately, it has very unmetaphoricaly, indeed very literally, taken people by their throats and inflicted an increasing number of respiratory diseases upon people. The most characteristic sound of urban life is a hacking cough, as citizens fail to overcome the paroxysm of coughs that the season has brought with it. The pity is that the winters are not to blame unaided. First has come the burning of crop stubble in fields. But that alone cannot be blamed. There is also what might be thought of as perennial pollution, spewed by factories, brick kilns and vehicles. The government has set up a committee, which is another way of pushing the matter onto the backburner.

This seems an odd reaction for a party which made a lot of noises about the environment in its election campaign. However, the only practical solution it has tried is tree plantation. That is a long-term solution, involving waiting for an increase in cloud cover, by which time many would have died, not from the coronavirus, but diseases caused by the air. Already, Lahore has been getting the worst Air Quality Index reading in the world. It seems only a matter of time before that position becomes permanent, unless the government undertakes some basic steps, long neglected.

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It must revive the inspection requirement for vehicles, and take all vehicles, whether transporting goods or people, and whether plying commercially or individually, off the roads if they cannot pass inspection. Such measures as shutting down on a working day, such as the Lahore High Court has done, will not work. This was tried in New Delhi, with the government staggering days of opening for all offices, schools and even markets, but the city is still a major centre of pollution. The government must crack down on polluting factories, as well as brick kilns which have yet to shift to nonpolluting technology. While individuals and community-based organizations have a role, it is the state which has to act.

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The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]

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