LAHORE - In a shocking revelation made in the Punjab Assembly yesterday, at least 145 factories are spreading air pollution only in one provincial constituency of Lahore while environment courts are sitting over 94 cases filed against factory owners for violation of environment laws.   

The constituency (PP-145) forms north eastern part of Lahore comprising areas of Harbanspura, Tajpura, Ghaziabad, parts of Mughalpura and Baghbanpura.

In a written reply submitted to the Assembly, the government has admitted that the area got developed without any planning and factories cropped up in the residential areas. The Assembly was further told that there are 154 factories in the area out of which 134 were producing steel by melting scrap.  

But the local MPA from this constituency, Muhammad Waheed Gul believes that the number of factories causing pollution is far higher than the official figures. In his question asked from the environment department he has put the figure of 1580 mills polluting the environment by burning carbon, chemicals and wires. 

Punjab Minister for Environment, Zakia Shahnawaz also acknowledged on the assembly floor that factory owners would burn tyres, plastic and other toxic material to melt the iron when gas was not available in the winter. But at the same time, she passed on part of the blame to the polluted air coming from India when her colleague Hina Pervaiz Butt asked the reasons for the recent unprecedented smog in the city. The minister also mentioned other causes like smoke emitting vehicles and factory pollution saying that laws were being strictly applied to address this problem.

The Assembly was told that environment courts were sitting over 94 cases of air pollution filed against owners of different factories for spreading toxic emissions. This disclosure leaves a question mark on the functioning of green courts set up by Chief Justice of Lahore High Court, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah to dispose of cases relating to environment.

The written answer also contained information about 55 factories which have been sealed in this particular area for using prohibited fuel. It also mentions cases of 19 mills which are under trial in the department and 10 factories whose owners have been sent show cause notices under section 16 of the Environment Protection Act.

The government, however, failed to reply part of the question in which the legislator had asked if the government had any planning to shift these factories from the residential areas. Nonetheless, the minister replied that government was asking the factory owners to shift to modern technology to reduce the level of harmful emissions.   

In reply to a question by Muhammad Arshad Advocate of the ruling party, the environment minister informed the House that government was prosecuting 10 owners of smoke emitting vehicles while 25 persons have been fined by environment magistrate. About the Sahiwal coal power plant, she assured the Assembly that emissions from this plant would be kept as per the international standards. She said government had already purchased one Air Quality Monitoring Station to check the level of air pollution while five more stations would be available in the near future.

The minister further told the House that government was asking all factory owners in Punjab to shift to the modern technology to reduce the level of air pollution

Also, the Opposition staged walked out from the Assembly to register protest over poor law and order situation in Punjab. Citing recent incidents of robbery in the City, Opposition leader Mehmoodur Rashid said that despite significant increase in budget for the Punjab police, the crime rate was still showing an upward trend. 

Earlier, the session started behind the schedule with a delay of around two- and- half hours. Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal snubbed PPP legislator Khurrum Jehangir Wattoo who lodged protest over the delay. The Speaker attributed it to late arrival of the assembly members and asked the Opposition leader Mehmoodur Rashid to calm down the protesting member. Rashid told the chair how he could admonish him when he was raising a valid point.