• CM announces ‘environmental emergency’ as govt considers proposals to phase out aging automobiles, designate car-free zones in Lahore
• LHC asks govt to notify four-day school week

LAHORE: As Punjab im­­posed an environmental emer­gency in parts of the province, particularly in Lahore, owing to the hazardous level of smog, the Lahore High Court (LHC) asked the government on Tuesday to notify the closure of schools in the provincial capital for at least three days a week.

Terming smog a ‘calamity’, Chief Minister Parvez Elahi ordered the effective implementation of a plan designed to reduce smog in the province and said that action should be taken to control the factors that caused it.

The Environment Protec­tion Department (EPD), transport, and industries departments in liaison with administrative officers should go in the field, the CM said, adding that any failure to implement the ongoing SOPs to reduce smog will not be tolerated. He said that “indiscriminate action” should be taken against those who set fire to crop residues — a practice banned across the province.

Legal action should also be continued against smoke-emitting vehicles, he said, adding that the anti-smog squad should regularly check smoke-emitting vehicles in the city to curb violations. The anti-smog squad should ensure the checking of vehicles at the entrances to Lahore, as per the directives. According to the CM, farmers will be provided with a modern harvester to destroy crop residues. Transfer of all brick kilns to zigzag technology should be ensured, he added.

Separately, a meeting of the Punjab Environment Protec­tion Council considered proposals to set up car-free zones in Lahore, as well as allocating traffic days in these areas, APP reported. It was also suggested that more and more trees with large leaves should be planted across the city since such vegetation would help curb the dust that permeated the air in the metropolis.

The council suggested that vehicles older than 30 years should be banned in Lahore from October to December and the use of electric public transport should be encouraged.

Minister Basharat Raja also weighed in, saying that all obstacles in the use of electric vehicles should be removed.

The council also suggested restricting the establishment of industries in Punjab to designated estates and parks.

Four-day school week

Separately, the high court directed the Punjab government to notify the closure of the schools in the provincial capital for three days a week due to aggravated levels of smog. Justice Shahid Karim passed the order while hearing public interest petitions on several issues relating to the environment.

The judge directed a provincial law officer to submit the notification regarding the schools’ closure in court on Wednesday (today). The judge also summoned the deputy commissioner of Lahore to the next hearing. The law officer said the government would produce the notification regarding the closure of schools today as per the court’s order.

Last week, the judge had observed that the government failed to control smog and directed the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to make rules to enhance punishment on the brick kilns and industries for violating the laws and policies. Justice Karim noted that smog had been causing health complications among the citizens, especially children, and senior citizens.

As per media reports, the provincial secretary for education opposed the proposal to close schools for three days a week, instead suggesting that early winter vacations be announced.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2022

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