WEB DESK: The country’s high officialdom is indeed firmly entrenched in luxurious offices and resides in gated-colonies with their manicured lawns, but not an inch beyond that on the terra firma called Pakistan where cities, big and small, have become heaps of uncollected garbage that is invariably left to putrefy. Ever-burning trash in streets, rising piles of trash and sewerage lines admixing with drinking water supplies – that is now a day-to-day reality in all cities thanks to the municipal governments’ lingering neglect of their responsibility.
And, this has gone on for years, even after the Supreme Court’s suo motu notice in 2003 and its order to the concerned departments to take remedial measures and report back. Thirteen years on, the provinces turned up at the apex court this past Wednesday and presented reports of their performance so hollow and perfunctory only to earn the court’s stinging observation to effect ‘as if you are nose-less creatures that you can’t smell the stench so thickly permeating our environments’.
The judges’ graphic observations how neat and unpolluted were our cities that over the time have become nothing but simmering dumps of toxic gases, do evoke considerable interest of the old-timers, harking them back to what Karachi once-upon-a-time was; how refreshing was the garden city of Peshawar and where are those mountain streams of Islamabad? Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali was impressed by the ‘bulky file’ of the Chief Secretary Sindh carried, but to him it signified nothing because the environmental pollution in the megacity of Karachi has ‘reached the pinnacle’.
The Chief Secretary Punjab too had nothing worthwhile to show as his anti-pollution performance. Of some 35 magistrates appointed to punish the polluters only one has reported on duty – how more telling betrayal of the cause of clean, unpolluted cities can be!
The apex court has ordered the chief secretaries to come again but this time with something substantive as an action to arrest and control the growing menace of ecological degradation now besetting Pakistan’s towns and cities. But that is a huge challenge. Even when the Supreme Court is very anxious to secure return of fragrance and freshness to our cities the situation has become so bad that nothing short of a steely determination on the part of the government and citizens consistent pressure can help recoup the lost ground, even if marginally.
In fact, the challenge of securing environments against degradation has been on the backburner for too long, as much for the colossal excessive incompetence and inaction on the part of the bureaucracy as for the citizens’ diminishing interest in living a healthier life in clean, embracing environments. Because of massive influx of vehicles the air at and around the major roads remains heavily polluted, impregnated with higher than permissible presence of carbon monoxide.
With public the collapse of the mass transit apparatus the number of private vehicles is multiplying by the day. We don’t know if the authorities have any serious plan in state hands to take care of this challenge. Then there is a steady flow of people moving to cities from the villages, generating need for more housing and additional construction to existing structures. This adds to the burden of existing sewerage lines, which being old and rusted burst and overflow unto the streets.
This again is beyond the municipal authorities’ managerial potential to take care of. With financial powers not being devolved to them, will the elected third-tier government be able to deliver on this challenge? That is a key question. No less polluter is excessive use of generators in markets and homes. But as we identify the weaknesses that undermine the government capability to confront and control the demon of environmental degradation we find inability, if not unwillingness, on the part of the private citizens to play their part. Take the case of drains that get choked only because most of us use them as dustbins for disposal of polythene bags and some other discarded items.
Yes, the municipal workers must keep drains open but the private citizens need to be careful too and stop using them as refuse depositories. Quite a few of the discarded items can be recycled, but for that the media needs to raise the level of general public’s awareness. In sum total, cities remain clean and fresh not only because of efficient municipal committees but also for the residents’ sustained interest and active cooperation.