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Shehbaz reviews shutdown order of cement factories at Katas Raj temple

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Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday, 2nd December, reconsidered the measures taken for restoration of the Katas Raj Temple, it’s dried up ponds and the natural environment in the Salt Range in a meeting held through video link. These measures are being taken in light of a Supreme Court minority protection case being headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

The meeting discussed in detail about the imposition of the ban on installation of new cement plants and other industries in the area. Shehbaz Sharif said that the Punjab government had declared the Salt Range negative area beforehand, therefore there should be restriction on the installation of new cement plant or industries and in the same way there would be a ban on the expansion of the existing cement plants.

The report also highlighted that the Chakwal administration, taking a serious view of environmental hazards caused by industrial activity, ordered closure of three of the 14 tube-wells in order to reduce stress on the aquifer.

He told the participants that an inquiry was underway into the expansion of said cement plants and in this regard the CM Inspectorate will finalize an inquiry report and further measures will be taken in light of the suggestions of this report.

The Chief Minister clarified that the current provincial government had not allowed any expansion in the cement plants; it had been granted by previous governments. He ordered the authorities to take immediate measures for replenishment of Katas Raj Temple’s ‘holy’ ponds and said that ‘protection of holy sites of minorities in Pakistan is our responsibility and this responsibility will be discharged efficiently.’

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He construed that there should be immediate work for the water level in the pond and a draft of the Ground Water Act should be given final shape within four weeks, adding that nobody would be allowed illegal operations in the area and the Commissioner Rawalpindi should visit the area personally and assess the situation.

He also directed the formation of a committee consisting of provincial ministers and concerning authorities to ensure the implementation of decision taken by the committee.
The committee includes Provincial minister Asif Bha, Evacuee Trust Property Board Chairman Sadiqul Farooq, the chief secretary.

During a hearing of the case earlier this week, the Punjab government had conceded in court that an aquifer feeding the pond at the Katas Raj temple complex is under stress and this has caused a drastic fall in the water level.

Last week, the Supreme Court had asked who was responsible for allowing cement factories around the historic Katas Raj Temple to increase production, which had resulted in the catastrophic destruction of the historic site.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar was heading a three-judge bench overseeing a suo motu case which followed media reports that the Katas pond was drying out fast as nearby cement factories had sucked up large quantities of groundwater through a number of drilled wells. The wells had severely reduced subsoil water levels besides affecting water usage of domestic users in the vicinity of the temple as well.

The CJP raised the question as to how a factory operating in the area was permitted to increase its production from 5,000 tonnes to 50,000 tonnes. “Did the federal government give the permission, or was it the provincial government?” he asked.

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Additional Advocate General Punjab Aasma Hamid submitted the provincial government’s report confirming that the water levels in the pond had reduced.

“The chief minister has imposed a ban on further requests for new factories and the provincial government has filled the pond up to 20 feet,” she informed the court.

She also said there was currently no legislation on the usage of subsoil water. Meanwhile, the provincial secretary of Mines and Minerals Department told the court that cement factories in the area had been issued notices in regards to their increment in production. 

The Supreme Court had asked who was responsible for allowing cement factories around the historic Katas Raj Temple to increase production, which had resulted in the catastrophic destruction of the historic site.

During a hearing of the case earlier this week, the Punjab government had conceded in court that an aquifer feeding the pond at the Katas Raj temple complex is under stress and this has caused a drastic fall in the water level. A report conceived and placed before the court in compliance with the suo motu notice attributed the depletion of water to a number of factors.

The report elaborated that the Katas Raj temple lies in the mineral-rich Salt Range, which has four cement plants. One of these is just two kilometres from the historic site. Since there is no major source of water in the vicinity, the factories rely on sub-soil water to meet their demands and even though the plant operates on “dry process”, which does not consume water, the facility needs water nevertheless for its cooling towers and to meet its requirements, the factory operates 14 tube-wells that are allowed to extract 148 cubic metres of water per hour.

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The report also highlighted that the Chakwal administration, taking a serious view of environmental hazards caused by industrial activity, ordered closure of three of the 14 tube-wells in order to reduce stress on the aquifer. Later two more tube-wells were made dysfunctional due to other reasons. At present only nine tube-wells of the cement factory are working, the report said.

Besides the cement factories, the area is known for a number of coal mine operations. Since this activity involves massive digging of the earth for coal extraction, the site becomes exposed to torrents of water gushing out from the earth capillaries.


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