LAHORE: A group of activists gathered outside the Environment Protection Department (EPD) office on Thursday to protest against the government’s failure to curb environmental hazards.

Members of the Awami Workers Party and the Lahore Bachao Tehreek as well as an environmental group called Taana Baana took part in the protest amid smog scare.

They stood outside the main EPA office and chanted slogans and raised banners.

They said the current situation of severe smog in Lahore was because of the fact that air pollution had been ignored by the government and the EPA. They said people’s right to breathe clean and fresh air was being taken away.

Saleha Rauf, who was one of the organisers of the protest, said the problem would not be solved overnight and one protest would not change everything. Therefore, they would be having another protest on Monday.

Sonia Qadir from the Punjab Commission for Status of Women said the officials of the EPA admitted that there were no monitors for air-quality measurement, and the only one that was working was in Chakwal.

Officials of the EPA who had come down to speak to the protestors said the issue was a ‘regional problem’ and not just limited to Pakistan.

On condition of anonymity, an official of the EPA told Dawn that the condition of the agency had worsened since the last director general had come but who has now been removed from the position. He said the labs were now closed and the DG had tried to get rid of the old air-measuring equipment and instead wanted to bring in new equipment.

“Instead of maintaining the old equipment, the department wanted to bring new pieces in, the cost of which would have been very high – only one instrument costs millions,” said a source. “Today, 80pc of Lahore and its outskirts have been dug up. The EPA had issued NOC to Nespak before the Orange Line project had begun, but it seems few of the 18 conditions mentioned in the NOC have been followed.”

For example, he says, no water had been sprinkled and the levels of dust because of these projects has increased manifold. No analysis of the air in the parts where digging has been done is made either. The worst hit are the areas where digging had been stopped because of a stay order of the court, including Multan Road, Zone 5 of the Orange Line project.

“The immediate remedy is to spray water on the dug-up areas,” said the official.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2016

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