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ISLAMABAD: A second fire in two years at the sprawling weekly market in H-9 has highlighted that standard operating procedures (SOP) have not been implemented in the bazaarby the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI), which is responsible for the affairs of the facility.

The SOPs dictate that stallholders cannot place uninterrupted power supply (UPS) batteries and backup generators in their stalls. Nor are they allowed to use stalls as permanent shops, but stallholders have opened permanent stores and go-downs, which are prone to mishaps during off days.

Since the MCI has not provided stallholders with electricity, they have also been forced to rely on UPS and solar power systems.

Sprawling market saw second fire in two years on Wednesday

More than 500 out of some 2,800 stalls at the weekly market were destroyed in a massive fire last year. Another fire on Wednesday destroyed 100 stalls.

Last year the fire broke out in Block C – which contains stalls selling garments, utensils and snacks, and Block H – the shoe market, because of a short circuit.

At the time, Mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz announced that the MCI and Capital Development Authority (CDA) would re-establish the destroyed stalls, but the file for this project is still with the CDA’s engineering wing and stall owners had most of the affected stalls restored on their own.

The cause of Wednesday’s fire will be determined by an inquiry committee, MCI spokesperson Malik Saleem said, adding that it seemed that a short circuit from a UPS fire caused the fire “because the chances of short circuits remain high during off days”.

This time the fire engulfed the landa section, which contains clothes and fabric.

“I do agree that according to the SOPs no one is allowed to keep generators and UPS batteries inside stalls; these are temporary stalls and shopkeepers are not even allowed to store goods here. But the SOPs are not being implemented,” District Municipal Administration Director Zafar Iqbal told Dawn.

Mr Iqbal said an inquiry committee set up under the supervision of the director security would note negligence and recommend a way forward.

“We issued notices to stall holders after the last incident, but they did not comply,” he said.

The affected shopkeepers have alleged that the fire may have been deliberate, but when asked why someone would set their stalls on fire, they could not give a satisfactory answer.

“Last time too it was a Wednesday, and once again we were made a target on Wednesday,” said stallholder Abdul Razaaq. He argued that each row of stalls is about 25 to 30ft apart, but the fire engulfed several rows which showed that it could have been deliberate.

Mr Razaaq said a private contractor was responsible for looking after the bazaar and was being paid by all the stallholders, but the security guards at the market were not efficiently performing their duties.

Although the market is visited frequently, there are no proper security cameras.

“Had security cameras been installed, it would have been easy to point out the cause of the fire,” a stallholder said.

Mr Iqbal from the DMA said the administration would set up monitoring rooms and more than two dozen CCTV cameras after this fire.

The weekly market was the site of a dispute between the MCI and Islamabad Capital Territory administration last year. The administration wanted the market under the administrative control of an ICT-formed market committee, while the MCI refused to relinquish control of the bazaar, arguing that it was planned and constructed by the CDA with its own funding on its own land. Control of Sunday markets in the city were handed over to the MCI after it was formed.

Firefighters’ response

According to the emergency and disaster management directorate, firefighters responded in five minutes.

Officials said they received the call at 12:56p.m and firefighters had reached the market within five minutes and managed to control the fire in 45 minutes.

Some 22 MCI vehicles, assisted by two fire tenders from the Navy and a few from Bahria Town, participated in the operation. Members of Milli Muslim League, the political face of Jamaatud Dawa, also participated in the rescue operation.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2018