Govt hides pollution data, protest on Mall
LAHORE– The Punjab government has shut down an air quality monitoring project to hide rising pollution levels linked to Orange Line construction work, environment department officials told The Nation.
Officials, who asked not to be named, said orders to close down the Air Quality Monitoring System had come from the very top just as Lahore edged towards being Pakistan’s most polluted city.
The decision emerged as residents groups, traders and heritage conservationists blocked Mall Road in the largest protest yet against the demolition of homes, threat to historic buildings and air pollution caused by the project.
“We have been directed from high authorities not to monitor it. Now nobody knows the actual situation of air pollution in the city,” said one official of the department.
Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had funded three ambient air-monitoring stations in 2007. Two were installed at the Town Hall and in the Township area, while a third operated as a mobile station.
“We are not getting data from the two earth bound systems and the mobile unit is not visiting the project area,” sources told The Nation. They said that the monitoring system has been effectively frozen for the last six months.
The systems were equipped with 16 analysers to measure levels of Nitrogen Oxide, Ozone, Carbon Monoxide and Hydrocarbon in the air as well as relative humidity, temperature, wind speed, wind direction and solar radiation.
Before the project was halted, the environment department collected air pollution data daily and published it in full on its website.
One official said he believed air monitoring will be suspended now until the rail project is completed.
“I think the high authorities are waiting to complete the project. We will go back to the past routine after the completion of the project,” he said.
Hundreds of placard -waving protestors gathered outside the GPO
building threatened by construction and pledged to stop the project in its tracks. They included people whose homes have been marked for demolition to clear the way for construction.
They demanded a proper planning process which guarantees the rights of those affected and protects the city’s built heritage.
“I strongly condemn the project because it is badly damaging the history of the city,” said Neelum Hussain, a social activist who has launched a court action to halt construction.
Widow Sanjeeda Bibi, whose husband died three months ago and now has eight children to raise alone, said her family will be left homeless when her house is cleared. “My husband died three months ago and the government is asking me to leave my home. Where I will go with my children?” she asked.
One elderly protestor, Zareena, said she was willing to give her life to stop the Orange Line destroy homes. “We elected the government but it is leaving us homeless for this project. It is a hell,” she said.
Shabana Akram, who lives in Mahalla Mahraja near Mauj Darya Shrine, said she too is facing eviction. “The government is forcing me to leave my home but not paying any compensation,” she said.
Mian Mehmood-ur-Rasheed, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition leader
in the Punjab Assembly, criticised the ruling Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz for wasting billions of rupees on the scheme which would have been spent on helping the poor. “The government should have focused on health and education sector but it has not which is awful,” he said. His party will challenge the project in the assembly, he added.
One protestor, Samina Rehman, said the city was being sacrificed for a political gambit,
“It is a political game which is making our lives hell. Lahore is mine and I will save it,” she said.