LAHORE: With winter around the corner, the smog issue is being discussed in environmentalist circles. Last year, the smog had great intensity in Punjab and this year one could only hope that the Air Quality Index (AQI) remains within limits.

Environment Protection Department Director General Ambreen Sajjad, however, says nowadays AQI readings are satisfactory, but if they cross the 200 limits, we will have to take measures and brick kilns on old technology, and industries having no scrubbers to tackle air emissions will be shut down.

She told Dawn on Tuesday that presently the department was utilising its resources and manpower to tackle the smog-related issues. During the peak smog period, no violator would be spared and only those industries’ operation would be allowed which had installed precautionary equipment, she added.

She said district officers of environment (DOE) had been directed to ensure industries’ environmental compliance and if any DOE failed to meet the task, they would face consequences.

She said the Punjab Information Technology Board was helping the department to post AQI data online and soon a mobile app would be launched.

Officials in the Environment Protection Department told Dawn a meeting was held at the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) where Environment Minister Bao Muhammad Rizwan tasked DOEs with controlling smog.

They were told to compile the report of theindustrial units in their districts and that they will have to submit the reports of each action taken so far against the industries and brick kilns. A special inspection team has also been constituted to verify the data reports to be submitted by DOEs.

They were directed at the meeting to increase inspections in their respective districts and to report the same to the head office. DOEs raised the issue of shortage of resources to which the minister said they would be given sufficient resources. Up to 177 units have been issued EPOs (environmental protection orders) in the past eight months and more than 600 notices have been issued for environmental violations in the anti-smog checking drives.

Last year, AQI readings soared to an alarming level due to persisting cold weather and a high level of air pollution.

On Tuesday, despite the sunny weather, the atmosphere remained dismal and misty, especially in the afternoon, however, EPD officials say that the AQI index level is within the 200 limit, which is satisfactory.

Environmental circles say that the air pollution debate with the smog season, whereas there should be more a serious focus on the issue throughout the year.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2021

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