The government of Punjab on Monday announced the decision regarding the closure of all private offices and educational institutions in Lahore on Mondays, besides the weekly holidays observed on Saturdays and Sundays till January 15.
The Punjab Relief Commissioner Babar Hayat Tarar issued the directive hoping for it to act “as a preventive and speedy remedy” for the purpose of ensuring “public safety, conserve lives and preempt and mitigate the imminent threat of smog in the province of Punjab”.
The order which is applicable within the territorial limits of the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation also cites evidence of “persistent deterioration in Air Quality Index of the city of Lahore, fluctuating from satisfactory to poor levels, which is likely to cause breathing discomfort, respiratory tract diseases, and heart diseases” as the primary reason behind the decision.
The decision has come following Lahore topping the list of cities with the most polluted air in the world following the city’s air quality levels turning hazardous.
Smog is the product of smoke mixing with fog. Although air pollution is a persistent problem in most urban centers in Pakistan, every October and November air contamination in Punjab soars as farmers burn rice stalks or stubble left behind following harvesting to clear their fields to plant wheat.
Lahore, being surrounded by rice-growing districts, is then covered with thick smog during these cooler months every year.
Court issues orders
Earlier last week, the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered the Punjab government to issue a notification instructing private offices in Lahore to cut the staff attendance to half in a bid to tackle smog.
Justice Shahid Karim issued the directives while hearing a set of petitions on the provincial government’s failure to appropriately deal with environmental issues.
During the hearing, the Judicial Water and Environmental Commission recommended the complete closure of schools in smoggy areas to which the court did not agree.
Justice Karim directed the provincial government to establish a smog cell at the offices of the Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). The court also sought a traffic plan and ordered authorities to set up an emergency helpline that citizens could use to register complaints about traffic issues.
According to the smog emergency plan submitted by the commission, stubble burning will be monitored by the PDMA on a daily basis and a thermal anomalies map will be shared with the district administration and agriculture department.
The report added, “The chairman of the commission […] issued a direction that if the Air Quality Index (AQI) of a particular area exceeds 400 AQI, a notice shall be issued through the education department for the closure of the respective schools or to conduct online classes as the case may be”.
AQI is a metric used by governments to inform the public about the quality of air. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health hazard. AQI values at or below 100 are generally thought of as satisfactory. Anything above that is considered unhealthy.
The report said, “It is being directed by the chairman of the commission that if the AQI for a particular area reaches 500AQI, then all the activities being committed by the respective industries shall be shut down. The traffic volume of the area having high AQI will be reduced to 50pc using the technique of odd and even numbers which in turn shall be enforced by the local police and traffic police”.
The report further noted that according to the Environment Protection Agency, 4,761 brick kilns were inspected throughout the province and fined Rs35.9 million. Further, 797 cases were registered, 22 people were arrested and 274 kilns were sealed.
It said that the transport department had inspected 3,075 vehicles and issued warnings to 324 while 921 were challaned for emitting smoke.