Students of New Convent School protest about the adjacent sewage disposal station. (Photo supplied)
A new ruling from a Punjab environment watchdog has barred a new sewage disposal station from operating adjacent to a Christian school.
In a notice issued on Feb. 19, Environment Protection Agency (EPA) director general Khurram Shahzad canceled the conditional approval issued to the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) of Faisalabad for construction of the disposal station near New Convent School in Madina Town, home to about 14,000 Christians.
“The conditional approval was valid for the construction phase of the project. The proponent operationalized the disposal station without obtaining environmental approval for the operational phase,” he stated.
“The open wastewater-collecting well at the project site is a source of a bad smell. A heavy-duty diesel generator is causing noise pollution. It is akin to compromising the health of young children.”
Since 2019, staff and students at the school had been staging protests when WASA started constructing the pumping station after demolishing the school playground.
Bishop Iftikhar Indrias of Apostles of Gospel Ministries International established the high school in 2013 with the help of foreign missionaries. It has 1,500 children, most of them Christians. About 300 students live in an adjacent hostel.
According to the school administration, some students have already dropped out of school due to the pungent odor and noise of the machines.
“This is a historical relief. WASA has been discriminating against Christians for decades. The disposal station was a graveyard of the dreams of our students. Only education and skill-based training can develop our poor community,” Bishop Indrias told UCA News.
Church leaders say discriminatory treatment is routinely meted out to Christians, who face a lack of employment opportunities and poor access to education. Government and army advertisements often offer only menial employment to Christians — for example, sanitation jobs.
Pakistani Christians are often referred as chura (low caste), an abusive term reserved for sanitation workers.
Among 2,240 sanitary workers employed by WASA, 1,609 are Christians. The percentage is similar for the 9,000 sweepers employed by Lahore Waste Management Company.