LAHORE - The Lahore High Court on Tuesday ordered Punjab Environment Protection Department to implement an emergency health plan if smog prevails again, with directives to the environment secretary to keep updated Air Quality Index (AQI) on department’s website.

In an unusual way, Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah took up the petition over smog in the early hours of the day and then again at 6:00pm.  The CJ expressed serious dissatisfaction over the performance of the environment and health departments especially to deal with such a serious issue .

During the proceedings, Punjab government presented a copy of  “Emergency Health Plan” saying that it would be implemented across the province if Air Quality Index (AQI) crossed international standards due to smog in particular.

Environment Secretary Saif Anjum and officials from health and metrological departments appeared before the court.  The officials said that medical emergency would be imposed with suspension of all outdoor activities and evacuation of people to the safe place as per the situation if the AQI crossed the figure of 500 milligram per cubic meter. Educational institutions and parks would be closed down  in case the index crossed the figure of 401 to 500 milligram per cubic meter. 

The officials also consulted environmental experts before finalizing the plan.

Earlier, the secretary told the court that the current index of the air quality was 107 mg which fell in satisfactory category. He stated the Tuesday’s rain was instrumental in decreasing the air pollution and smog.

Pulmonologist Prof Dr Kamran Cheema gave expert opinion before the court. The CJ  snubbed the authorities for not giving awareness for school-going children, senior citizens and pregnant women against their outdoor exposure during the smog.

The officials, however, claimed earlier that the situation was not of severe nature and did not require imposition of health emergency.  Additional Advocate General Anwaar Hussain also told the court that air polluting industries had been shut down by the government as a measure to control causes of the smog.

The CJ adjourned the case for a day with directives to the government to implement the emergency health plan.

On the previous hearing, the CJ remarked: “The Punjab government’s performance appears to be limited to just official documents.”

Barrister Sara Bilal, who was appointed as amicus curie, told the court that health emergency should be enforced due to smog in Punjab.  Such department should be closed, she said.  The chief justice observed that the government has not been working to cope with the challenge with the required pace.

The CJ rued Pakistan has crossed the international limited set for pollution but the government has been dragging its feet over the matter.

Sheraz Zaka, the petitioner, made a request to the court to direct the authorities to adopt effective measures to fix the problem.