RAWALPINDI, Feb 22: Punjab Environment Tribunal’s tough message of ‘shape up or fold up’ to the polluting stone crushers in the Margalla range near Taxila is working both ways.
On the second and last day of its proceedings, the tribunal on Friday fined six crushing units a total of Rs180,000 and gave them two months to shape up while owners of seven others said they have closed theirs.
Head of the tribunal Abdur Rasheed, with members Prof Dr A. R. Saleemi and Awais Rabbani, did not take the word of the seven as the truth and directed the District Environment Officer Shaukat Hayat to verify the fact on the ground.
“If these units have closed, the cases against the owners would be dropped,” the tribunal ruled in the cases of Basharat Stone Crusher, Malik Zahid, Iqbal Shah, Muhammad Imran, Jenis Khan, Malik Mumtaz and Asad Khan.
The tribunal asked the other six units to plant trees and install wet scrubbers before May to reduce pollution and to restore the sites they degraded to health.
Otherwise, the tribunal warned the polluters, they will be fined Rs1,500 every day until they did that.
DEO Shaukat Hayat reported to the tribunal that more than 120 stone crushers operating in Margalla Hills near Taxila had created problems for the local population and the environment.
When the Punjab Environment Protection Agency checked the air pollution in the area, he said it found that the emissions at the stone crushers approximated 5,000mg/Nm3 (milligram per cubic metre), much higher than the 150mg/Nm3 national quality standard set for grinding and crushing sites.
“Since they did not install proper pollution control devices, such as wet scrubbers, the stone crushing activity increased the level of Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) many, many times the permitted limit,” the DEO said.
Neither any owner planted trees around his stone crushing sites as required under the norms issued by the provincial government.
“They also failed to erect steel sheets or concrete structures as a wind-breaking wall at the sites,” he added.
All these crush machines were operating without securing the Environmental Impact Assessment from Punjab-EPA, mandatory under Section 12 of the Environment Protection Act.However, owners’ representatives argued that they had installed their crushing machinery before the passage of this law in 1997.
They said that most of them had closed their businesses.
Upon this, the tribunal head Abdur Rasheed said that all must abide by the law or face the consequences. The units can be closed down if they failed to adopt fire safety measures.
The tribunal also took up the case of dumping of solid waste and hospital waste in the open by the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) without adopting environment protection measures.
However, the tribunal put off the hearing until April on the request of the RCB as its lawyer was busy in Lahore High Court in other cases.