LAHORE - The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Saturday held Punjab Environment, Health and School departments responsible for a lack of coordination on formation of public health emergency policy to deal with the smog problem.

In a 9-page judgement, Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah gave three months to the Punjab government and held that the “new revised policy will assign a role to the Health Department as well as School Education Department to tackle the smog issue and pollution”.

The judgement says, “Smog touched the highest levels..., but no tangible steps were taken by the Environment Protection, Health and School Education departments for protection of health or safety of residents of Lahore, including children, pregnant women and people of old age.” The chief justice observed, “This is most disconcerting and disappointing.”

Walid Iqbal, grandson of national poet Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal, had moved the petition through Advocate Sheraz Zaka against failure of the Environment Protection Department to control smog and environmental pollution.

The judgement says, “As per the Smog Policy, when PM 2.5 concentration rises above 300 it is considered a severe health situation, which may have an impact on respiratory health of people and serious impact on health of people with lung/heart diseases. This impact can be experienced during light physical activity.”

The officials of the Punjab Environment Department told the court that they had been analysing and tabulating the data in order to formulate an action plan. EPD officials said they did not have written correspondence among the departments, including health and school education.

The health secretary told the court that they had been holding meetings on a daily basis for two weeks. However, readings of air monitoring machines were not discussed with his department, he said. The Health Department submitted the steps it had taken to educate people about the challenge of smog and environmental pollution. The health secretary said his department ran awareness programmes through newspapers and in the streets.

Barrister Sarah Belal and Fahad Malik, amici curiae, submitted that if the level of PM 2.5 crosses 300 ug/m3 it calls for declaration of health emergency and in support of this contention refers to the Public Health Emergency provisions) Ordinance, 1944. Ahmad Rafay, another amicus curiae, had brought a portable air monitoring indicator in the court and submitted that the level of PM 2.5 in the court is 494 ug/mg and outside the court it is slightly over 500 ug/m3.

After hearing officials and lawyers, the chief justice directed the secretaries of the aforementioned departments to sit together to formulate an emergency action plan to challenge smog and environment pollution. The chief justice sought progress report on “revised policy, including the role of Environment, Health and School Education departments. The court adjourned the hearing until Dec 18.