LAHORE: A joint team of police and the Punjab Civil Defence on Tuesday launched a formal investigation into the fire at Pace shopping mall in Gulberg.

A number of affected shopkeepers spent the night on the road in the hope of saving whatever they could at their shops.

The Gulberg police lodged a case against unidentified suspects for setting the multistorey plaza on fire after the union leaders and shopkeepers alleged that it was a “planned crime by the plaza owners”. The hapless shopkeepers and traders also brought their families including children but their hopes were dashed when they found nothing in the shops. The entire shops were gutted in the inferno.

A government team visited the shopping mall building and seized the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) in the basement. The DVR was luckily found intact and the officials hoped it could lead the investigators to the cause of the blaze.

Gulberg police register a case against suspects

At least 400 shops and hundreds of stalls were engulfed by the fire which broke out on Sunday night. The owners of the businesses big and small helplessly saw the flames devour the valuables and some of them alleged that it was an arson planned by the plaza owners. The Gulberg police lodged a case against unidentified suspects on the complaint of the traders.

Pace Shopping Mall union general secretary Mirza Amir Baig alleged in the FIR that the fire was not erupted because of a short-circuit -- something which is often cited as the cause of fire.

“The Pace Shopping Mall houses an LTE system in its basement from where the electricity supply line is suspended at 11:30pm daily,” Mr Baig said. He said the staff including security guards and management officials deputed in the first shift would hand over charge to the next shift (night shift) staff.

“The circuit breaker is turned off and a clearance report issued daily while handing over charge to the next shift,” he said and ruled out the possibility of a short-circuit.

He further said in the FIR that two months ago the management held a meeting with the union leaders at the Pace Shopping Mall head office on MM Alam Road. The management asked the union to have the plaza vacated from the shopkeepers as they (the owners) had a plan to construct a high-rise building on the Pace land.

“The Pace management offered a hefty amount for this service to our union leaders which we refused,” he said. He said suspects set the plaza on fire leaving hundreds of shopkeepers and traders in the lurch.

“All the shops have been reduced to ashes and hundreds of families are undergoing an agonising experience,” he said and demanded legal action against the perpetrators.

Meanwhile, an official said a team of police and the Civil Defence visited the plaza and recorded statements of some union leaders and the affected shopkeepers. He said major cracks had appeared in the foundation and the walls of the plaza due to the intensity of the fire which lasted more than 10 hours.

He said the building would likely to be declared dangerous as engineers were assessing it to prepare a report.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2022

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