LAHORE - An oil refinery, Sheikh Brothers Lubricants, has been creating environmental and health hazards for the residents of Syednagar village adjacent to Alipur Chattha district Gujranwala, for the last one decade.

The issue was taken up with the Environment Protection Agency several times, it is still unresolved for the reasons that the EPA officials could not explain. The issue has heated up again and the EPA has summoned the complainants and the owners of the refinery to present their point of view on May 10, 2017.

The residents blame Sheikh Brother Lubricants said the liquid waste of the oil refinery was being disposed of in a pond nearby due to which the underground water level has been polluted and villagers are forced to use water from a public sector water tank.

EPA Deputy Director Waseem Ahsan Cheema told The Nation that investigation was underway. “District Officer Environment Gujrawala Rana Asghar, after conducting an initial inquiry into the charges, has sent a report to the Environment Protection Agency, Lahore office.

“We have sent notices to both the parties and hearing of the case would be on Mary 10, 2017, before the Deputy Director (Research and Investigation) at EPA Complaint Cell,” he said.

Zeeshan, a resident of a village in Alipur Chathha, said the oil refinery named Sheikh Brother Lubricants was built just at few hundred yards away from our village in 1997. “When oil is prepared it produces very bad smell and it moves in the direction of air and causes breathing problems for people living in the village,” he said. 

“As result of the acidic smoke directly thrown into air, it makes at times breathing impossible for residents. We have repeatedly complained and request EPA DOE Gujranwala and even the EPA Lahore, but all in vein,” Zeeshan said.

Yasir Ali, who is a clerk in a private company and resident of Nawaan Thatta area of the same village, said that despite repeated complaints, EPA has been using delaying tactics.

He said in 2007 the oil purification unit was shut off due to strong agitation of public from nearby localities. “Due to understanding between EPA officials and owner of the unit, it started working again after some time,” Yasir said.

Muhammad Arif, a farmer of Syednagar village, said children had to inhale smoke and drink contaminated water. “Although there are no issues of government-run tube-wells through which we provide water to our fields, the tap water is not usable anymore and this could be dangerous for our children and in near future the situation could be very dangerous,” he said.

The EPA closed this unit in 2007 by applying the clause 146/C of Punjab Local Government Ordinance, 2001. However, after some time the unit again started working.

The residents also told The Nation that EPA did not apply 146/D clause of the ordinance which directed demolition or removal of the unit, but they did apply 146/C just to divert simple public’s attention for some time. 

Even in 2006 when the first complaint was launched against the factory, the then EPD inspector of Gurjawala, Arif Mehmood, in his report sent to the EPD Department, Lahore, stated: “Village Syednagar is located at a distance of just 1km from the factory and the people of this village feel much disturbance by the air pollution.”

Muddassir Bhatti, a farmer with small land holding in the village Syednagar, said that due to waste extraction of the oil refinery in their village, the underground water has been badly contaminated. “A few years back we could even drink water from our hand pumps, but now even if we take a bath, it cause itching all over our bodies,” Muddassir said.

Villagers also complained that the situation could be drastic for schoolchildren in Government Model School for Girls and Government Model School for Boys. Syednagar village’s population is around 10,000.

According to clause 146/D of Punjab Local Govt Ordinance, 2001, in case of any serious threat to the public health, safety or welfare or danger to life and property, the inspector may, in his area of jurisdiction, in addition to imposition of fine or initiating prosecution under this ordinance, suspend any work, seize the goods, seal the premises and demolish or remove work.

The EPA deputy director stated: “I am directed to intimate that Environmental Protection Order under Section-16 of Punjab Environmental Protection Act, 1997, (Amended in 2012), has already been issued to the alleged unit, containing the directions.

In 2013, the EPA, after holding a departmental inquiry, issued a directive to the oil refinery to take remedial measures by installing air pollution abatement equipment to control gaseous emissions and bring values of applicable parameters to comply with permissible limits of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS). It was also directed to save public health and environment to the satisfaction of this agency and dispose of sludge/solid waste in proper scientific manners.

Even in 2013, the EPA warned that if the necessary steps were not taken, operation of pollution generating activities at the present site would be stopped.

It is pertinent to note that District Officer Environment Muhammad Nawaz Sial stated in a report in 2013: “This office visited Sheikh Brothers Lubricants Alipur Chattha on 14-10-2013 and a report was forwarded to Director General EPA Punjab, Lahore, for further necessary action under the provisions of Punjab Environmental Protection Act, 1997, (amended in 2012).