ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation for rising air pollution during a meeting of the Senate climate change committee on Wednesday.

The Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change met to discuss various issues regarding the conservation of the environment of Islamabad. It also took up issues of hygiene and the capacity of a landfill in I-12.

While discussing Islamabad’s air quality index, Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed remarked: “The air quality of Islamabad, despite its greenery, is worse than New Delhi and Beijing.”

During the lockdown imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19, the air over the capital was the cleanest in many years. Particulate matter declined to 25 micrograms per cubic metre, far lower than the World Health Organisation and Pak-EPA’s ambient air quality standard of 35 micrograms per cubic metre.

The reduction in industrial activity, construction, solid waste burning and, most importantly, traffic, led to a significant improvement in air quality.

However, the committee members felt that the situation has deteriorated.

After the Pak-EPA was unable to explain the reasons for the rise in air pollution, committee members directed the agency to submit the complete information on the degradation of air quality in Islamabad. The committee was also briefed on maintenance and hygiene at Faisal Mosque.

The chair, Senator Sitara Ayaz, criticised the ignorance displayed by representatives of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad regarding matters discussed in the meeting.

While discussing garbage collection and hygiene at the mosque, the committee was told that janitorial services were outsourced to a private firm called Dani Enterprises, with a Rs13.8 million contract. The company has deputed 74 employees.

The senators criticised the lack of cleanliness at the mosque and asked the CDA of the feasibility of such a deployment when no visible results have been yielded. The committee demanded that the contract be cancelled immediately.

The committee also criticised the hygiene conditions at an old landfill in I-12.

The Pak-EPA told the committee that a new landfill has not been regularised, and garbage cannot be disposed of there.

The new site is in the jurisdiction of the forestry department, and a no-objection certificate is required from the Ministry of Climate Change for the purpose.

The committee expressed concern regarding the matter and asked why it was not brought to the committee earlier. The CDA chairman, Islamabad mayor and Pak-EPA director general have been summoned to the next meeting for their responses in this regard.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2020