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Karachi inferno: stern action demanded

Published Sep 14, 2012 02:59am


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THIS is apropos of the greatest tragedy in Pakistan’s industrial history and your editorial ‘Karachi inferno’ (Sept 13).

No words can be used to express the sorrow and grief on the loss of lives that include men, women and children who were burnt to death beyond recognition. Some of them were the sole bread winners of their families.

An inquiry commission has already been constituted to investigate and find out the cause of the fire but like all other such previous commissions no official of the departments concerned will be held responsible.

The fire burned 256 lives in just a few minutes while our leaders are busy issuing statements of grief and sorrow, with a promise to bring the guilty to justice.

Ali Enterprises, a garment factory where ‘hundreds saw hell on earth" is not the only industrial unit in Pakistan. Almost all industrial units spread all over the country are more or less like the ill-fated Ali Enterprises where people work under an environment not even recommended for animals.

Safety measures are almost an alien word for owners of industrial units because the most easily available commodity in our country is human life and that too of the poor.

You have very correctly and courageously stated: “Factories in Pakistan are kingdom unto themselves. They are concentration camps where workers are denied their basic rights enshrined in the constitution, in country’s labour laws and the international conventions.”

The government, in particular, and owners of industrial empires, in general, must have mercy on poor workers, the backbone of this unfortunate country, who have worked day and night for the development of industrial units.


Potential cases

THE inferno in the garment factory should make everyone sensitive to security of their environment and neighbourhood.

Our house (188C/II PECHS) is located in a purely residential area. Yet the house is surrounded by facilities that could potentially be fire hazards.

Across the house is the service centre of PEL where electronic gadgets and machinery are brought for servicing and repairs.

Extensive use of electronic machines for the commercial purpose could result in heavy load on power and consequently short circuit and fire.

Next to the PEL Centre is a commercial office with several vehicles belonging to the workers and visitors parked carelessly outside disrupting smooth flow of traffic, particularly during the start and end of PECHS School and College not far away.

A courier company has rented a house just opposite our house and parcels are loaded and offloaded at all odd hours. It would be reasonable to assume that some of these packages would have inflammable material.

Large vans, pick-ups and dozens of motorcycles of the carriers are parked there at great inconvenience to the residents.

Behind our house are two hospitals: a three-storeyed, with basement, fully airconditioned orthopedic hospital supported by a humongous and noisy generator and a maternity hospital.

A backyard of a house in the aft has been hired by a motor garage where cars and motorcycles are tested with noisy results.

I would ask the departments concerned to investigate each of these commercial activities in a residential locality before locality meets with some calamity.

Foresight is better than hindsight and becoming newspaper headlines or breaking news for news hounds.


Workers at risk

THERE are hundreds of garment and textile factories in Pakistan; however, the fire and safety conditions almost do not exist in most of the factories leaving thousands of workers at risk of accidents.

In developed countries, fire exists are considered of utmost importance in all houses, workplaces and industrial units. On the other hand only one exit was available in this unfortunate factory. The required fire exits were either not provided or locked which caused the loss of hundreds of poor workers’ lives.

It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that fire exits and proper fire-fighting equipment are provided at all schools, offices, factories, shopping centres,  cinemas, etc.

If these precautionary measures are not taken urgently, these horrible events cannot be avoided where precious lives of poor workers are lost.


Weeding out the corrupt

QUESTIONS are being asked about the non-implementation of safety standards and the massive corruption in government ranks which led to such fragrant violation of law.

The matter does not end here. The internal situation of factories are not satisfactory. There are no facilities for workers.

Even chemical industries do not give gasmasks for workers. Chemical gas is injurious to health. All this is happening due to government inefficiency and negligence. Labour laws exist but there is no implementation.

For instance, factory owners do not give even Rs6,000 as salary to its workers. There is no regular inspection of industries.

If some inquiries are held, the owners give bribe to the KBCA or others concerned.

The whole nation should accept responsibility. The nation should elect fair and honest people in the upcoming elections and see to it that all such problems are given utmost attention.


Disaster in factory

THERE were reports in the media that the owner of the factory was asked to pay an extortion money to the tune of Rs50 million and, therefore, he was forced to leave the country about 15 days ago.

The factory had made no arrangement for the emergency exit and other necessary requirements.

This is not the only case of its kind. Almost all factories do not meet the standard criteria in Sindh.

People were expecting that the minister concerned would accept responsibility of the tragedy and resign immediately but he did not.

Stern action should start from the concerned minister this time immediately as it would set good example for others to come.

I also request the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to take sou motu action as regards the tragedy.

M. KHAN SIAL Karachi


THE fire which burnt down a factory on Wednesday is a sad incident in the recent history of Pakistan. We can have a debate on it for a long time. However, what I have gathered from the news media is that the factory owner is being made into a scapegoat by being solely held responsible for the factory fire.

What is the responsibility of various government agencies who visit factories and commercial buildings?

Is it only to take bribes and overlook gross violations of health and safety like shortage of fire escapes, illegal construction, horrible working conditions, etc.

It is they who should be put to task rather than the factory owner.

The factory owner seemed to be a hero till yesterday by being one of the prominent exporters of Pakistan and by providing employment to over 4,000 workers. But now he is being treated like a criminal rather than those who should at least share the responsibility with him.

Naveed Ashgar Sheikh Karachi

No fire exits

ALL affected by the fire at the shoe factory in Lahore and at the garment factory in Karachi are in our thoughts and prayers. Why were there no fire exits for the workers?

Pakistanis, please pray.

Thank you, and the best to you all.



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Comments (8) Closed

abbas Sep 15, 2012 01:34am
Even a jail has emergency exits. But they were worst than jail, no way to run. So pathetic
Sara Sep 15, 2012 06:47pm
Thank you Mr Matthew for your kind thoughts!
A-1 Sep 14, 2012 04:18am
Thanks for your wishes Mathew. We do wish and pray that the factory owners and concerned authorities realize their responsibilities towards taking steps to avoid the loss of human lives.
HASAN BAQAR Sep 14, 2012 10:17am
I absolutely agree with Mr Irfan Hussain regarding the situation of current industrial sector especially TEXTILE sector of Pakistan where poor workers have to work in a very worst condition and I must say that some textile industries which are following somehow safety and labour rules are not because of the owners will or Pakistan's government rules but because of their western buyers which have very strict compliance policies and regular audits of the units where they are ordering their goods. On the other hand all departments which are liable for workers safety are making just money from top to bottom and there is no role of them in implementing workers safety.
Hadi Sakey Sep 14, 2012 06:56am
No action will be taken. Blame game will continue. The investigators particularly police will complicate the case and the result will be a mixed bag of puzzles. By the time the findings are revealed people will forget the sequence of the incident. Shame on department of Industries, Electrical and Boiler Inspection, Architect who prepared and passed the drawing of the building.
Faheem Sep 14, 2012 11:50am
In competence and ignorance of Government (National & Provincial and Local) is the main cause of these sad incidents. They are only focusing to purchase voters by distribution of Laptops, income support and distributing money to media. Our main stream political parties (PPP & PML-N) have sever shortage of visionary leader ship. The people who cannot run CENIMA & Factories in proper way are running country. Anybody can visit these leaders? sugar plants and other mills and business and he should not find any safe practices in these organizations. It?s our bad luck that we have been selected from the money maker machines not from the human beings. It is said about Shreef family that they have donated hospitals for people but the reality of these hospitals is only tax saving.
Ng Krishnan Sep 14, 2012 02:38pm
Extremely sad, tragic and heart rending accident. I fully agree with the observation of Naveed Ashgar Sheikh. Working conditions are no better in the South Asian sweat shops of India, Bangladesh etc, which routinely cut corners and resort to ?gross violations of health and safety like shortage of fire escapes, illegal construction, horrible working conditions, etc.? and bribe the political leaders and Government inspectors to get away with it. From the perspective of the factory owners it is next to impossible to compete in a cut throat competitive garment industrial sector without these illegalities. It is a matter of survival for them. With the poverty, ignorance, superstition, lack of scientific temper among the vast majority of South Asians, there is no black and white solution to this problem.
Haroon Tabani Sep 14, 2012 05:31am
Its time to change 1934 British Made Pakistan Factories Act The recent fire incident in a local factory in Karachi is a great national loss. Our prayers are with departed souls. All culprits including factory owners, local factory inspectors, unions etc should be brought into the court. Those families who lost their beloved should be compensated immediately. We have to learn lessions and foremost immediately review the outdated Pakistan Factories Act 1934 who were developed by British. Governemt should review the British made 1934 Pakistan Factories Act laws in line with international laws and practices for the prevention of fires in workplacesl Ensure mandatory requirements of having fire exits, doors and equipments in all existing and new factories. Operating licenses and permits should not be issued until these arrangements are made..All factories owner should ensure adequate fire protection arrangements are in place and local civil defence / factory inspectors are mde responsible to periodically check and submit reports to management and government officials. Those who will be involved in bribery and corruption to cover up factories owner by manupulating their fire inspection reports should be given severe punishment and heavy fines. I am sure all such actions will help us in the reoccurrence of such furure incident. Haroon Tabani Corporate Health, Safety and Environment Manager Saudia Arabia