Residents of northern Punjab – and the rest of the north Indian Subcontinent as well – have been clamouring for their governments to take steps to counter the ever deteriorating natural hazard that is smog. The onset of early winters brings with it a thick layer of fog, which nowadays is choked with particles of smoke from the exhaust of vehicles, industry and burned crops. The resultant slurry of toxic chemicals is the cause of countless health complication and deaths across the Subcontinent each year.

It is therefore quite commendable to see the Punjab government taking decisive steps to counter this problem. Reportedly, the Punjab government has decided, in principle, to set up the Punjab Clean Air Commission to control pollution and smog. A high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar on Saturday was told that brick kilns would remain closed as per court orders from October 20 to December 31. A ban on the burning of crops residue would be imposed across the province from October 1 and “people-friendly strategy” would be evolved for stopping operation of two-stroke engines, motorcycle rickshaws and smoke-emitting vehicles. Coupled with an upgrade in the air quality management systems in many cities this makes for a comprehensive policy to tackle the problem.

While this timely action is certainly appreciated, the bane of this, as well as all other well-intentioned government policies remains implementation. As neighbouring India has discovered, preventing farmers from burning crop residue across the vast farmlands of Gangetic plains is a difficult proposition, it would be so for Punjab too. The other proposals – keeping polluting vehicles off the roads and brick kilns closed – would be a massive administrative and policing exercise.

The word “in principle” describing the decision is worrying as it doesn’t encourage complete confidence in the implementation. The government has to prove it is up for it.