Punjab closes schools for two days as ‘soft-smog-lockdown’ set in motion

  • CM Naqvi says educational institutions shut in six divisions to combat smog crisis
  • Says efforts initiated for implementation of a plan for artificial rain in Lahore

LAHORE: Responding to the escalating smog crisis, the caretaker Punjab government on Thursday decided to keep all educational institutions closed for two days – Friday (tomorrow) and Saturday in six divisions of the province under the “soft-smog-lockdown” plan to curb the hazardous atmospheric conditions.

“The Punjab Government has decided to close schools on Friday and Saturday in Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Sahiwal, and Sargodha divisions,” Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi announced while addressing a presser here.

The caretaker CM pointed that the areas in question were witnessing severe smog.

According to the Air Quality Index, the AQI in Lahore at 5pm on (Thursday) was recorded at 306, which falls under the category of hazardous. It said that the PM2.5 concentration in Lahore was currently 51.2 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value.

The measures come two days after the Lahore High Court (LHC) directed the Punjab government to close all educational institutions on Saturdays till the end of January.

On Sunday, the Punjab government had also made face masks compulsory for residents stepping out of their homes in 10 districts. It had also previously imposed a limited lockdown to tackle the escalating air pollution levels.

Following the press conference, the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) issued a notification which said that there would be “restricted movement” in the six divisions.

It said that all public and private schools, colleges, universities and educational institutions would remain closed on Friday and Saturday. It further said that all markets, shops and and restaurants would open after 3pm on both the days.

The notification, a copy of which available with Pakistan Today, said that all offices would open after 3pm on Saturday.

Speaking on the occasion, CM Naqvi said the Punjab government had also initiated efforts to implement a plan for artificial rain in Lahore, elaborating that the authorities would explore the (option) to address smog, contingent upon meeting all the requisite conditions.

“In order to induce artificial rain, specific cloud types and other necessary measures are prerequisites which we are currently working to fulfil. If all the requirements align, we intend to conduct artificial downpours in the city on Nov 29,” he told journalists.

Artificial rain, also known as cloud seeding, is a weather modification technique that aims to increase precipitation from clouds by dispersing substances, typically silver or potassium iodide, into air to provide a surface for water vapour to condense onto. The increased condensation leads to the formation of larger water droplets that eventually fall as rain.

During the press conference, the caretaker CM also revealed that students would be provided 10,000 subsidized electric bikes in smog-hit areas, adding that government employees would also be offered the same facility on a lease.

“We are not in favour of shutting markets. Hence, we are deciding that markets will open on Friday and Saturday from 3pm onwards […] On Sunday, all markets will remain closed as well as other businesses,” he said. He added that the district governments in all six divisions would ensure that businesses remain closed on Sunday.

Naqvi further said, “Restaurants will also open at 3pm onwards on Friday and Saturday. Offices will be open on Friday but only after 3pm on Saturday. The AQI levels are higher in the morning than in the evening, so we are trying to break that cycle.”

He said it was decided that Mall Road in Lahore would be reserved for cyclists till 5pm on Sunday.

“Some of our decisions carry symbolic significance, aiming to disrupt the peak cycle of smog, while others are intended for long-term impact,” he added. He further advised people to continue wearing masks to avoid contracting any health problems.

Earlier, the Lahore High Court has taken strong exception to the unsealing of factories without proper court authorization, citing environmental pollution concerns. Justice Shahid Karim presided over petitions from citizen Haroon Farooq and others, subsequently halting any further unsealing of factories without court permission.

Senior Legal Advisor of LDA, Sahibzada Muzaffar Ali, and Environmental Commission member Syed Kamal Haider presented reports during the court proceedings. The Environmental Commission’s report highlighted a meeting with Caretaker Chief Minister Punjab Mohsin Naqvi, who assured the court that all orders related to smog control would be diligently implemented.

Expressing confidence in judicial measures to address the smog crisis, the caretaker chief minister noted a visible reduction in smog levels due to these measures. The government is poised to issue a notification soon, mandating two days of work from home per week to further mitigate the situation. In a comprehensive report submitted by LDA for smog mitigation, Senior Legal Advisor Sahibzada Muzaffar Ali emphasized a significant operation conducted to enforce the transition of brick kilns to zigzag technology. Sixteen cases were registered for non-compliance with the directive, underscoring the seriousness of the government’s commitment to tackling the smog issue in Lahore.

 

Saleem Jadoon
Saleem Jadoon
News Editor at Pakistan Today

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