The interim Punjab government on Tuesday announced it is imposing a “four-day weekend” for Lahore and its surrounding areas this week in a bid to reduce smog, which has rendered the provincial capital the “most polluted city” in the world for the past week.
Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the provincial cabinet, interim Punjab Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi stressed this was not a recurring decision, and was being imposed only this week to take benefit of the mid-week national holiday of Iqbal Day on Nov. 9 (Thursday). “Lahore is currently the most polluted city in the world. This is not a welcome development for residents of Lahore, residents of Punjab,” he said.
Noting the policy would be implemented in Lahore division, Gujranwala, Wazirabad and Nankana—which Naqvi described as the worst-affected from smog—the interim chief minister said the extended break would not be applicable in the rest of the province. “In our cabinet meeting, we reviewed the health ailments arising in children, the elderly and the general public from this smog,” he said, noting officials had been briefed by both the health minister and the environment secretary.
Highlighting that the primary reason for the current smog situation was stubble burning in India, the interim chief minister hoped the neighboring nation would also take steps to curtail it. “We also have stubble burning,” he acknowledged but claimed India’s was four times that of Pakistan. “It is right on our border and we are facing the brunt of it,” he added.
“I’m sure you’ve seen how Delhi—which has similar smog problems—has shut down schools, which has helped reduce its pollution,” he said, adding that authorities had examined initiatives taken by other countries to counter smog and taken steps that could have a similar impact in Lahore.
“Our primary purpose with these steps is to reduce smog by 10-15 percent,” he said, emphasizing that it was not possible to eradicate it. Explaining that a formal notification of the decision would be issued shortly, Naqvi said all steps were being undertaken under the environmental emergency already imposed in Punjab.
Detailing the steps being taken, he said factories and construction work would not be shut down, as this impacted impoverished laborers who could not afford even a day’s worth of lost wages. Similarly, he said, public transport, wedding halls, bakeries and pharmacies would remain operational. However, he said, markets would be closed on Saturday, while parks would remain closed Friday through Sunday.
Warning that police would “strictly” implement the policies this week, he said Section 144 would be imposed because the government wanted to avail the maximum benefit of these four days. “Please wear masks,” he advised. “Lahore needs a rest. Please stay indoors over this weekend if you remain in the city,” he said, adding those who wished to travel outside the city for vacations were welcome to do so, as it would also reduce pollution.