The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday directed the government to ensure criminal proceedings were initiated against “delinquent officials” if concrete evidence was found regarding their role in the blaze that erupted at a commercial building on Karachi’s Rashid Minhas road last week.

The directives were issued on a petition seeking implementation of laws regarding fire safety in buildings and prevention of fire related incidents in high-rises of the city.

Eleven people died while five others were injured after a blaze erupted inside the R.J. Shopping Mall on Saturday because of a suspected short circuit. According to officials, the deaths occurred because the building had no ventilation.

On Sunday, police had registered a first information report (FIR) of the fire at the Sharea Faisal police station. The case was registered on behalf of the state but no one was nominated in the FIR. Instead, the FIR stated that the “connivance” of K-Electric (KE) and other institutions — which gave approval for the building’s map — would be probed.

In an order issued today, the court issued notices to the respondents, including the Advocate General for Sindh, for Dec 7 when reply or objections should be filed.

“In the meanwhile, it is expected that all the relevant authorities including the provincial government shall ensure to initiate appropriate proceedings for the purpose of conducting an inquiry in order to find out causes of such a tragic incident which caused the loss of lives of innocent citizens, and if there is concrete material found criminal proceedings against such delinquent officials of the authorities may be initiated in accordance with the law,” the order stated.

The SHC further stated that the families of the deceased persons should be compensated “as per the policy”.

The petition

The petition filed in the court sought directives for the authorities concerned to strictly monitor all the fire safety rules and regulations as set in the Building Code of Pakistan-Fire Safety Provisions-2016 and that completion certificate of any newly constructed building may not be issued until the fire safety rules and regulations were strictly followed.

Citing the chief secretary Sindh, secretary home department, commissioner Karachi, director general Sindh Building Control Authority, chief executive officer Cantonment Board Faisal, president Pakistan Engineering Council and others as respondents, petitioner Nadeem A. Shaikh advocate moved the SHC and submitted that formation of an emergency taskforce was necessary to ensure enforcement of these laws and regulations.

He submitted that the Building Code of Pakistan-Fire Safety Provisions-2016 was enacted, duly notified and circulated to all federal and provincial authorities and departments concerned, but no measure was taken so far to implement the same.

The petitioner submitted that the legislation in question provided rules for fire prevention, life safety in fire related incidents and fire protection of buildings and structures as prescribed.

While referring to a recent fire incident at a shopping mall located on Rashid Minhas Road as well as some other fire incidents that took place in the provincial metropolis the recent past in, he also said that such incidents in the city were common and that most residential, commercial and industrial structures in Karachi did not have fire prevention and firefighting systems at all as the builders, contractors and owners deliberately, in connivance with the corrupt officials concerned, did not follow fire safety rules and regulations for their personal benefits.

The petitioner further said that the authorities concerned had consistently failed to control the mushroom growth of multi-storey buildings as well as to take action against architects and builders for flouting fire and safety regulations.

He argued that Karachi was a mega city with a population of over 20 million and there were only 22 firefighting stations, roughly one station each to cater to the needs of one million people while overall increase in the fire incidents was not only because of growing population but also due to quick development of high-rise structures and industries without observing regulations of fire safety.

The petitioner also asked the SHC to direct the respondents to compensate the families of all the victims who lost their lives and to provide best medical facilities and treatment to those who sustained injuries during fire related incidents in the city.

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