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LAHORE: A feasibility study that was scheduled to start in February 2015 for installation of the wastewater treatment plants at various points along the Hudiara drain couldn’t be launched after the independent consultants sought more time to submit documents for participating in the bidding for the contract.

According to a senior official of the environment department, the bidding for award of the feasibility study contract to any suitable company out of total four couldn’t be completed after the four firms, including the National Engineering Services Pakistan (Nespak), wrote a letter to the department, seeking more time.

“I had seen a letter from Nespak sometime ago. Through the letter, the company had sought some more time for submitting the documents related to the feasibility study amid technical and financial proposals,” says a senior official on the condition of anonymity.

About 35 years back, Hudiara drain was a stormwater drain used for irrigation and draining wastewater into the Ravi. The drain originates in the Indian Punjab, runs along the border enters Pakistan and passes along the eastern suburbs of Lahore (Raiwind) before ending up in the Ravi. This drain has been the centre of attention for many environmental protection agencies in Pakistan and India due to high levels of toxic in it.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Pakistan), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), etc had also launched a project to study the toxic levels in the drain. This project ended in the late 2006 with shocking results, showing that the drain was a wastewater carrier that didn’t meet even the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) devised for the industrial effluents. Based on certain parameters for total dissolved solids (TDS), cadmium, copper and manganese concentrations in drain water, its water was deemed not suitable for irrigation in long-term use because of contamination.

The WWF-Pakistan has also been actively pursuing this project reportedly since long. In addition to conducting a study on Hudiara drain pollution and its treatment issue, the government had a plan to raise the issue with India that could not materialise to date.

“We are planning to install an instrument at the drain’s entry point to assess the air and other sorts of contamination in the drain. We have started taking all stakeholders on board and as soon as we get the instrument installed to measure the waste coming from India, we will take up the issue with the Indian government,” a senior environment department official told Dawn on Sunday with a request not to be named.

He said he would also take up the matter related to the inordinate delay in conducting a feasibility study of the drain regarding wastewater treatment plants’ installation.

“As far as I know, a letter from Nespak had been received regarding extension to various dates of the bidding. So the department delayed it for a while. Four companies have so far expressed their interest in the project,” he explains. On the other hand, he says, the department is carrying out sampling and testing of the wastewater flowing into the drain on a daily basis.

Environment department’s director Naseemur Rehman says the drain runs for about 35km in Indian Punjab. “It enters Pakistan and runs for about 55km in the Pakistan’s territory before falling into the Ravi. Since the drain runs in India for 35km, it brings toxic waste into Pakistan where more contamination/wastewater discharged by scores of factories in Lahore falls into it at various points.”

The official says that about 215 factories dispose of their water into Hudiara. Of them, 125 are facing it at various locations while 55 others add more waste into it besides waste from 35 more factories of Kot Lakhpat industrial area and housing societies. However, he says, some factories have already installed their own treatment plants.

Mr Rehman also quoted meetings of a high level committee held sometimes back to consider options to resolve Hudiara contamination issues.

“The options related to installation of a couple of wastewater treatment plants had been floated and discussed in the meetings from time to time.

Finally, it was decided to first conduct a study before taking a final decision. There are 54 kinds of plants and the committee left the final decision to the senior officials.”

He says PC-2 has already been approved by the government to conduct the study and as soon as it is completed, a PC-1 will be prepared and submitted to the government for installation of plants.

“I believe that the process of the selection of the consultant will be finalised soon. But I can’ give a final date,” Mr Rehman concludes.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2016