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LHC orders private offices to halve staff attendance as smog intensifies

Court does not agree to close schools in areas with high levels of smog. (Source: AFP)

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered the Punjab government to issue an immediate notification directing private offices in Lahore to halve staff attendance to help reduce the noxious smog that is causing serious health problems in the populace.

Justice Shahid Karim heard the petition on the provincial government’s failure to appropriately deal with environmental issues, with the focal person of the Judicial Commission submitting a report to the court.

However, the court did not agree with the Judicial Commission’s recommendation to close schools in areas with dangerous Air Quality Index (AQI) readings. Advocates Azhar Siddique And Sheraz Zaka represented the petitioners.

The report, submitted by the focal person of the Judicial Commission, suggested that action should be taken against those who burn crop residues on a daily basis and said the Punjab Disaster Management Authority should immediately report the burning of crop residues to the concerned deputy commissioner.

It recommended immediate closure of schools and commencing online classes in the areas where the AQI was 400 or above. Furthermore, immediate closure of factories in areas with an AQI of 500 or more was also recommended

The report further stated that more than 4,700 brick kilns were inspected across Punjab and fines of more than Rs30 million were imposed on the kilns, while 274 brick kilns were sealed. It further added that 797 cases were registered against kiln owners whereas 22 kiln owners were immediately arrested.

During today’s hearing, Justice Karim directed the provincial government to set up a smog cell at the offices of Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). The court also sought a traffic plan and directed authorities to set up an emergency helpline that citizens could call to complain about traffic issues.

According to the smog emergency plan, 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.

It also said that the PDMA will monitor the progress of each deputy commissioner and submit reports to the commission before the next meeting, which will be held on Wednesdays till the smog season subsists.

The court’s directives come as Lahore on Wednesday once again topped the list of cities with the most polluted air in the world after air quality levels turned hazardous in the afternoon. The air quality in Lahore was declared ‘very unhealthy’ for the inhabitants.

Smog occurs when smoke mixes with fog. While air pollution is a persistent issue in most urban centres in Pakistan, every October and November contaminates in the air in Punjab shoot up as farmers burn rice stalks or stubble.

 

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