At least 12 people died in a stampede during distribution of Zakat among the families of employees working at a private company in Karachi’s Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate (SITE) area on Friday.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Keamari police initially said that 11 people had died while five others had been injured. The spokesperson said the injured had been shifted to the hospital while further investigation was under way, adding that most of the victims were women between 40 to 50 years of age.
Later, South Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police Irfan Ali Baloch said that another woman had died, taking the death toll to 12.
Police Surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed told Dawn.com that three children were among the dead.
‘Around 400 women’
Keamari Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Fida Husain Janwari said that the FK Dyeing company, located in SITE area, had invited the families of its employees in order to distribute Zakat among them.
He said that “around 400 women” had arrived and fearing a large crowd, the company staff closed the doors. He said that inside the premises there were no arrangements in place for making a queue, adding that local police were also not informed about the activity.
SSP Janwari said that several women fainted from the heat and the stampede. He said police contingents rushed to the spot, detained some of the employees on charges of negligence and shifted the women to different hospitals. “Reportedly, the company’s owner was not present,” he said.
South DIG Baloch said the company used to distribute Zakat and other items among the poor in Ramazan. He said that today was the third day the company was distributing alms, adding that between 400 to 500 people turned up.
He said that the factory owner, identified as Zulfiqar, would be arrested soon.
Keamari Deputy Commissioner Mukhtiar Abro said that the owner of the factory had not obtained a no-objection certificate from the district administration and had also not asked for security.
He said that seven employees had been arrested and a case would be registered against them. He said that the owner would also be held accountable.
Sindh CM takes notice
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah took notice of the incident and sought a report from Karachi Commissioner Muhammad Iqbal Memon.
“The administration should be informed about any distribution of ration and welfare work,” the chief minister said and expressed grief over the lives lost in the incident. He directed officials to move the injured to the hospital.
Later, Shah announced that the provincial government would give the families of the dead Rs500,000 as compensation while the injured would get Rs100,000.
Sindh information and transport minister Sharjeel Inam Memon termed the incident “tragic”. Talking to a private TV channel, he said that the factory management did not inform the police and the district administration about the event.
The minister appealed to philanthropists and non-government organisations to inform the district administration and the police when undertaking such activities.
Memon said that the Sindh government had decided to transfer funds to the needy through the Benazir Income Support Programme to avoid such incidents.
PTI Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry said the incident was a “practical example” of the country’s economic condition and criticised the provincial government for its alleged indifference.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a statement saying it was “deeply concerned by the mismanagement causing stampedes at wheat flour distribution centres set up by the government”.
The commission termed the incident in Karachi to be “particularly alarming”. “This situation is adding insult to injury for the marginalised people of Pakistan who are braving the economic injustice perpetuated by the elites who dominate the state,” HRCP said, calling on the government improve the distribution system.
Thousands of people have gathered at flour distribution centres set up across the country, some as part of a government-backed programme to ease the impact of inflation, which is running above 30 per cent, a 50-year high.
At least five other people have been killed and several injured in recent weeks at sites in other provinces in Pakistan. Thousands of bags of flour have also been looted from trucks and distribution points, according to official records.
The stampedes underscore people’s desperation in the face of soaring costs, exacerbated by Pakistan’s falling currency and a removal of subsidies agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to unlock the latest tranche of its financial support packages.
The costs of basic goods have surged, with flour prices rising more than 45pc in the past year.
Additional input from Reuters
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