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Shehbaz Sharif proposes regional agreement on tackling smog to Amarinder Singh

Shehbaz Sharif proposed the Indian and Pakistani sides of Punjab should have a “regional cooperation agreement” to tackle problems such as crop stubble burning that lead to smog.

world Updated: Nov 21, 2017 19:14 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India's Punjab state,Pakistan Punjab province,Shehbaz Sharif
Indian schoolgirls are covered in a sheet in an effort to protect themselves from heavy smog as they are driven to school on a scooter after three days off due to the air pollution in Amritsar on November 13, 2017. Large swathes of north India and Pakistan see a spike in pollution at the onset of winter due to crop burning and the fact that cooler air traps particulates close to the ground, preventing them from dispersing -- a phenomenon known as inversion. (AFP)

The chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Shehbaz Sharif, has formally proposed a “regional cooperation agreement” to tackle smog and environmental pollution to his Indian counterpart Amarinder Singh.

In a letter written to Singh on November 19, Sharif noted that the people of his province and India’s Punjab state have “been facing the problem of smog during the months of October and November” since last year. The problem, he said, was “more aggravated and widespread” this year.

“With this in view, I would like to invite you for entering into a regional cooperation agreement to tackle the issue of smog as well as environmental pollution,” said the letter, which was tweeted by the official handle of the government of Pakistani Punjab.

“Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of the two provinces,” it added.

The tweet also tagged Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Shehbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab province and brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in Islamabad on June 17, 2017. (Reuters)

Vast swathes of both sides of Punjab have been blanketed by smog in the past few weeks, with the pollution affecting normal life and transportation. Schools on the Indian side were closed for three days earlier this month while the timing of educational institutions on the Pakistani side was changed because of the smog.

The smog has been blamed on a variety of factors, ranging from the widespread burning of crop stubble, dust from construction sites, emissions from industries and coal-fired power plants.

“The phenomenon has now assumed regional proportions and it engulfs the areas from New Delhi to Lahore and beyond. You will agree with me that the problem is essentially scientific and economic and cannot be tackled through other means,” wrote Sharif, who is being projected as a potential prime ministerial candidate by his PML-N party for Pakistan’s general election next year.

“I firmly believe that it is in the interest of the people of both Punjabs to make a collective effort towards identifying technologies and business methods that may eliminate the need to burn rice-stubble and help control smog formation,” he added.

Sharif, 66, said the smog was affecting public health, especially the elderly and children, and agriculture, as it has delayed the sowing of wheat and damaged potato and other crops.

The governments of both sides of Punjab had very close links though these were hit by the tensions that followed the 2008 Mumbai attacks. In the past, the two sides organised joint sports events and a large number of people from the Indian state visit Sikh shrines in Pakistan every year.

This is not the first time Pakistan’s Punjab, the country’s most prosperous and populous province, has suggested that the two sides of Punjab should work together to tackle pollution.

The Pakistani Punjab government had tweeted on November 8 that it had banned the burning of crop stubble and hoped Amarinder Singh would take similar steps.

First Published: Nov 21, 2017 19:10 IST