LAHORE: As the first winter rain fell in Lahore, Environment Specialists Association of Pakistan met at the press club and lamented the ‘indifference’ on the part of the government to address the smog issue.

The rain did not affect the city as a whole; in fact the smog issue magnified resulting in a misty grey afternoon in many areas of Lahore.

Speaking about why the rain on Tuesday didn’t result in more positive results, the environmentalists said this was pure acid [rain] and it would take at least a couple of [more] rains for the smog issue to end for the time being.

“The smog had badly affected the entire city and could have easily been dispelled by spraying water in focused areas,” Advocate Akhtar H Awan, chief executive of Ecogreen Company Lahore, told Dawn. “However, absolutely no action was taken.”

Environmentalists lament govt indifference, term drizzle acid rain

In the press conference, Aleem Butt, chief environmentalist from SEAL (Solution Environmental and Analytical Laboratories), stated that in the past, three ambient air quality monitoring stations were given to the EPD [Punjab] in 2007 in cooperation with Japanese firm JICA under the Air Monitoring System project. Of the three, two were fixed stations and one was mobile. The fixed were installed at Township and Town Hall.

“The EPD staff were trained for these stations and the equipment,” he said. “But in 2014, about Rs8 million were spent on what the government called their ‘repair.’ However, after the repair the systems were shut down.”

He said in 2015 parts worth Rs3.5m were purchased but even then they were not used.

Meanwhile, the EPD revised the NEQS (National Environment Quality Standards) to PEQS (Punjab) and changed the compulsion of using the “beta ray absorption method” and now termed it “preferred”. The beta ray method is the certified method to measure PM (particulate matter) 2.5 and 10.

Nihal Asghar, director SEAL, said the department changed the method to “optional” and instead introduced the gravimetric measurement method. “They [EPD] purchased Air Pointer in 2016 for Rs21m, almost four times more expensive than its original price, but it is inefficient equipment.”

He alleged that there was so much corruption in the EPD that such actions were being taken for kickbacks.

It was discussed that the EPD transferred all its JICA trained staff to other districts and hired untrained people.

A panelist said an inquiry by NAB was launched to investigate corruption in purchase of new equipment but five more air pointers were bought by the EPD in June 2017 while the inquiry was in progress.

Dr Sajid Rasheed, head of Earth and Environmental Sciences College (Punjab University), gave a detailed briefing on the burning issue. Being an expert in GIS systems too, he said the areas worst hit by smog could be identified on the GIS maps [of Lahore] which everyone could access and was available with WWF, Nespak and others. In any six of the locations worst hit, the EPD could place its instruments and live readings could be made available.

He said sometimes cars needed to be reduced or have installation of catalystic converters which converted carbon monoxide (CO) to CO2 (carbon dioxide).

Urban planner Imrana Tiwana from Lahore Bachao Tehreek said the felling of trees was a problem that needed to be addressed at once. “In essence, the smog policy is not being implemented at all.”

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2017