LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Monday lashed out at the Punjab government for not responding to the prevailing crisis of smog in an appropriate manner rather being unprepared and ignorant of the environmental challenges.
Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah even reminded an officer of the Environment Protection Department (EPD) that the authorities failed to take emergency actions.
The CJ was hearing a petition moved by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Walid Iqbal through Advocate Sheraz Zaka questioning the government’s inefficiency to control the smog for the second consecutive year.
“Life of citizens is being reduced and you people (authorities) have not awakened from slumber,” the chief justice observed with regret when the officer failed to furnish latest figures of Air Quality Index (AQI) in the provincial metropolis.
Justice Shah said the government should have made the ratings of the AQI public but it was unable to present the statistics before the court even.
When asked, the EPD’s officer told the court that six machines had been installed in Lahore to measure the AQI. He said it required declaration of health emergency if the AQI crossed the rating of 430.
Barrister Sarah Belal, amicus curie in the case, told the court that the smog had been causing health-related issues among the citizens. She said its effects especially on school-going children were irreversible.
Referring to figures being circulated on social media, the chief justice observed that Pakistan had crossed the minimum international standards of air pollution and the authorities had not been sensitised to the dangers.
In a dialogue with the government’s lawyer, the CJ said the court just wanted to know as to what the authorities learned from the last year’s spell of smog and the measures adopted since then to control it. It appeared that all working of the government was paper based only, Justice Shah said.
The CJ adjourned further hearing for today (Tuesday) and summoned the secretary (environment) along with complete record of the latest ratings of the air quality index. The judge also sought assistance of Advocate Rafay Alam, an environmentalist.
Earlier, the petitioner’s counsel argued that the EPD miserably failed to take measures regarding the implementation of smog policy. He said the lack of performance by the department resulted in increase in pollution levels across the province.
Advocate Zaka pointed out that following massive smog in London during 1952 environmental laws were implemented and Clean Air Act 1956 was also promulgated in addition to blanket closure of coal industry by the then prime minister.
He said the government introduced the smog policy on the direction of the court but was not taking effective steps for its implementation.
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2017