Lahore - In the wake of smog threat and excessive use of groundwater by the cement factories, the Punjab government has proposed to ban the establishment of new cement units in the Potohar region.

The decision comes after noticeable decline in water level, increase in pollution and the court orders striking down government’s location policy.

As per the official sources in the Chief Minister Office, the department of Industries, Commerce and Investment (IC&I) has initiated a summary to the CM for placing cement industry under Schedule ‘C’ of the location policy. Under the new arrangement, the areas previously exempted from the application of the ordinance would now be covered under the law.

The government has proposed to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif through summary writing “it is necessary that the Industrial Location Policy dated 17th September 2002 may be amended to the extent of placement of cement industry in the Schedule-C.”

The decision was taken after the Lahore High Court Lahore order dated July 28 2016. The court had struck down the location policy notification dated April 12. The Punjab government appeals were also dismissed by the Division Bench of the LHC, Lahore on September 11 2017. Moreover, the Punjab CM had also issued directions in a meeting in light of the ongoing wave of smog across Punjab.

After the LHC judgment, Additional Advocate General Punjab Asima Hamid on December 4, 2017 had written a letter to the Punjab Chief Secretary, the Senior Member Board of Revenue, CMIT Chairman, P&D Chairman and Secretaries to Industries, Mines and Minerals, Environment, Archaeology, Law and others in this regard.

CS Capt ® Zahid Saeed directed all the departments concerned to take the matter on priority basis. The letter in reference to the issue of drying out of the “Shiri Katas Raj Temple Pond” referred to the points considered on December 2, 2017 meeting in the Civil Secretariat with the CM and all the other officers concerned. The letter further discussed points merit consideration and necessary action that include to limit groundwater usage by issuing an executive order based on the water emergency in the area by declaring it a negative area.

It was also decided to further limit the ground water usage by the Bestway Chakwal cement (BCL), expedite the undertaking of the hydrological study, daily monitoring and water gauge in the BCL, to finalise CMIT report on expansion of the cement plants’ capacity. Moreover, it was also decided to finalise the report on delineation of positive and negative areas in the cement sector and to establish conditional criteria. To initiate a central water scheme for Choa Syden Shah and thereafter place a ban on place a ban on tube wells for domestic use, finalise ground water act and expedite proceedings undertaken under Environmental Protection Act 1997.

Mines and Minerals Department (M&MD) is carrying out an exercise titled “Delineation of Negative & Positive Mining Areas for Installation of cement Plants in the Salt Range and related Issues”. As the M&MD only deals with the leasing out of the areas, it is the responsibility of the IC&I department to invoke the provisions of the existing laws.

As per the summary, “The legal framework in this regard would be developed in such a manner that a complete ban be imposed in areas where there is potential threat to the environment from establishment/enlargement of cement plants”.

The IC&I has passed on instructions not to issue any NOC to any applicant for establishment or enlargement of cement plants. The underground water issue is being heard in the apex court. On Tuesday, the court had summoned the secretaries mines and minerals, ic&i, and archaeology directing them to submit government reply on the matter.