Schoolchildren on way to school on a motorcycle-rickshaw during smoggy weather. — Online
Schoolchildren on way to school on a motorcycle-rickshaw during smoggy weather. — Online

LAHORE: Smog being caused mainly by an incursion of smoke and ash of burning crop stubble and, what officials believe, emissions from coal power plants in India worsened in Punjab on Thursday and also enveloped adjoining Sindh and KP’s Dera Ismail Khan.

The situation was particularly alarming in south and central Punjab. It was not good in Lahore either. But the Environment Protection Department (EPD) officials said control over local pollution contributions thinned the lower layer of smog though its upper layer further thickened because of enhanced incursion of smoke and ash of the crop stubble being burnt on a large scale in the adjoining Indian Punjab.

Officials claimed emissions from the Sahiwal coal power project too were contributing to pollutants causing smog in the plains of the province.

Smog had developed in Punjab last year too, irritating eyes and throat, and causing breathing problems for people outdoors. People in Lahore and other cities in the central and southern Punjab are once again facing the same problems for the past three or four days as the authorities try to grapple with the situation. The general perception is rain is the only hope which can clear off the phenomenon.

Officials said SUPARCO spotted 2,620 fire incidents through satellite in Indian Punjab in the last 24 hours. There were just 27 in Pakistan’s Punjab where torching crop residues has been banned under Section 144. The authorities have registered 151 cases and arrested 43 farmers for violations.

According to the EPD officials, smog was particularly thick in Bahawalpur, Multan, Okara, Pakpattan, Chiniot and Faisalabad due to two major factors -- rampant crop stubble burning and emissions from coal power plants in Indian Punjab and Rajasthan. “There are four such power plants in Indian Punjab and nine in Rajasthan close to Pakistan,” an official said.

Crop stubble burning is also causing smog over a large area in India, and media reports say it has failed to control the pollution-causing practice despite public outcry and censure by courts.

The EDP officials said smog was creating problems for people in Bhakkar and it has also reached KP’s Dera Ismail Khan and Sindh areas adjoining Punjab.

“Only rain and strong westerly wind can reverse the worsening situation,” a Met department official said. He forecast dry weather in the next at least one week.

An EPD official said more steel re-rolling mills were sealed in northeastern Lahore in the last 24 hours (Thursday), raising the number of such mills to more than 130. There are 350 mills in the city and the remaining have been allowed to function on the condition that they would not burn used tyres.

As many as 11,203 smoke-emitting vehicles, mainly diesel, have been challaned and 1,145 impounded in Lahore and other smog-hit cities in the past few days.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2017