LAHORE - The Punjab chief minister has approved a summary for the imposition of ban on installation of new cement plants in the entire province, The Nation has learnt.

As per details, a summary for the standing committee of the cabinet on legislative business was moved for imposition of ban on establishment of new cement plants. The summary said, “The Punjab Industries (Control on Establishment and Enlargement) Ordinance 1963 is the legal instrument for the organized growth of industries in the province. Under Section 3 of the Ordinance, mandatory prior permission from the government for the establishment of any industrial undertaking is required. Section 11 of the ordinance empowers the provincial government to relax any industry or class of industries from any or all provisions of the ordinance.”

As per the documents, the cement industry had been excluded from schedule C (category of industries established without prior approval of the government) vide Location Policy notified on April 29, 1989. Earlier, under the location policies of 1986 and 1981, the cement industry was placed in the schedule (C).

Recently, a number of environmental issues have been exposed regarding overexploitation of the natural resources by the cement industry through enlargement in their production capacities thereby resulting into decline in underground water tables and increasing air pollution. The severe smog was also result of this.

The Industries Department had submitted a summary for placing cement industry in Schedule C of Location Policy dated 17th September 2002 till such time that the demarcation of negative and positive mining areas for installation and enlargement of cement plants in the province is completed by the Mines and Mineral Department (M&M department).

The Punjab Chief Minister approved the summary and desired to place the matter before the cabinet through standing committee on legislation for further deliberation and appropriate recommendations.

Earlier, the Law department secretary Syed Abul Hasan Najmi had also written on the proposal that the chief minister may kindly approve the proposal of enfolding the cement industries within the regulatory framework under the ordinance. Moreover, the matter may be placed before the cabinet sub-committee on legislation for appropriate recommendations to the cabinet, the law secretary Najmi wrote.

The Mines and Minerals department secretary also examined the case and wrote that the Punjab province has 12 cement plants out of which eight are located in the salt range. Residents of the area have become increasingly resistant to the installation of new plants in the most affected area.

The M&M Secretary further wrote that ban on large-scale mining was imposed on October 14, 2015, under the directions of competent authority with a view to revamping the legal framework of mines and minerals sector. The process is in progress.

Official documents further told that the Chief Minister Punjab in consecutive meetings had also directed to probe the matter of extension of existing cement plants by a committee comprising Chief Minister Inspection Team (CMIT) Chairman and the Director-General Anti Corruption Establishment. The documents further tell that an international consultant Artelia has been hired to conduct the study.

As the M&M spokesperson was not available to comment on the issue, a senior officer on the condition of anonymity said that the cement plants issue was more political than technical. He said that the authorities didn’t allow installation of new plants by the investors just to oblige the existing unit owners, who have already multiplied their produce. “The unchecked expansion of the plants in the salt range damaged underground water tables in the area that resulted in a dry Katas Temple sacred pond” the officer stated. The apex court had to take suo moto on the hue and cry of the people and directed the Deputy Commissioner Chakwal to shut down tube wells of private cement factories near Katas Temple Pond in Chakwal.

Chief minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif during a meeting held on 6th October 2017 had directed the scope of the study would include whole of province instead of specific areas of the salt range.

It is pertinent to mention here that the same matter is under adjudication in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

The mines department secretary also endorsed recommendations and suggestions moved by Industries and Commerce Department to notify the ban on establishment of the new cement plants and enhancement in excising capacities till the finalization of guidelines which would emanate from the work of Consultants Artelia.

An officer on condition of anonymity said that the government is anxiously waiting for finalization of guidelines from the study of the consultant. He said that the government was facing multiple issues regarding installation and enlargement of existing cement plants as influential investors were interested in the industry following enhanced need of the product for the CPEC.