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Bund Road — a dead end

September 12, 2012


LAHORE, Sept 11: The government response to the tragedy was typical. The district officer (industries) was at hand to express sorrow over the loss of life. He admitted the factory was located in what is technically called “negative area”. Decoded, it would mean that it was an illegal factory with 30-off strong staff going in and out who somehow existed out of official sight.

MNA Hamza Shahbaz, filling in for the chief minister, toured the site of the accident a few hours after the fire had been reported. As the Punjab government announced compensation against the deaths and injuries, he sought to douse charged emotion by characteristically promising an initial-inquiry report within 24 hours. Such accidents were taking place too frequently, he said, and vowed that the facts behind the Bund Road factory fire will be disclosed “as all facts must be known.”

As part of his own damage control exercise, the young MNA was quick to point out that the factors for “this destruction” went well beyond the four and a half years – the period covering the current term of his father, Mr Shahbaz Sharif as the chief minister. Mr Hamza Shahbaz implicated the past governments, the most well known of these happened to be headed by the members of his own family, for having ignored the crucial areas related to safety at workplaces. “This is the destruction of the last 30-35 years,” he said, even if unwittingly, urging his party to improve on its past showing.

The Punjab government tends to make tall claims and soon leave them behind. When a pharmaceutical company in Kharak collapsed in a boiler blast killing 26 people in March this year, the Shahbaz government announced shifting city’s industrial units to other areas and adopting workplace safety measures through inspection of units. The incident in question shows that workplace safety has yet to be improved.

“The notification about the restoration of labour inspections proved to be just paper work, as none of senior Labour and Human Resource Department officials paid heed to it,” Hanif Ramay, secretary-general of the Mutahidda Labour Federation, told Dawn.

He said the rules allowed labour officials to inspect workplaces and ensure provision of minimum wages, health, safety and other facilities to workers. He said since the government restored labour in spections’ system in March, he did not witness even a single inspection by any official in any factory in the city. He held the government responsible for the incident, demanding a criminal case against the chief minister and his team.

Labour and Human Resource Department’s secretary Hassan Iqbal claimed his department was implementing the workplace inspection laws though not in letter and spirit. He said a district officer (labour) through a notice had warned the factory owner to improve safety conditions at workplace.

“When officials visited the newly established factory, there was no generator in the factory,” he said, referring to the generator which reportedly caught the fire.

He said as the ban was lifted after a long time, the department first issued notices to factories not providing facilities to the workers.

“In the second phase, we will start formal visits to workplaces,” he said.

District Officer (Industry) Chaudhry Azhar said that any one under the law could set up a factory anywhere in Punjab (except in city areas) without any no-objection certificate from the departments.

About the Bund Road factory, he said the owner had set up the unit in a rented building that looked like a residential building. He claimed that the Industries’ Department had already launched a survey to identify factories being run in the city areas and found 1,700 factories functional in residential localities of the city.

“Soon after completion of the survey we will shift these units to other areas,” he added.

Lahore District Coordination Officer Noorul Amin Mengal said the City District Government would enforce the relevant laws to avert such incidents in the future. He said an inquiry had already been ordered by the chief minister into the incident.