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Taming killer factories

September 15, 2012

MORE than 289 people have perished in the Karachi garment factory fire leaving the families of the dead, as well as the nation, grieving. A number of questions are here to be answered by whoever are responsible for the tragedy, including civil society, government institutions, national disaster management authority, fire-fighter management, politicians, the media and the SITE Limited. Was it a result of mismanagement or corruption?

Was the factory insured? If yes, did the insurance company checked out the factory to see if the building meets the criteria to get the insurance policy? Had the company any rules like this at all or not?

How did the SITE Limited permitted such a building to be a factory building when it was not constructed according to an authorised map? Where is the factory owner since the incident was reported? Why were there no emergency exits, fire alarms or extinguishers in the building? Is there no one to check such violations of the law and to halt them? Why is every Pakistani institution more concerned with money instead of human lives? Will investigations against factory owners and culprits proceed or will everyone forget the issue after making a little fuss and statements?

SANA MALIK                Rahim Yar Khan

Various versions

AS far as the cause of the fire is concerned, it is being said that there were various explosions and then the fire erupted. Another version is that the owner failed to pay the extortion money and, as a result, the factory was burnt to ashes.

I sincerely believe that the investigation committee formed in this respect will dig out the facts and come out with the right cause of the fire. Through these columns I would like to highlight the utter failure of the factory owners/management to handle such a situation. There was only one entry and exit door in the whole factory. This is a severe failure in disaster situations.

Many teenage boys and girls were working in the factory, which is a clear violation of labour laws. Instead of going to school, they were working in the factory.

One source quoted that this was the fourth fire in the factory. Despite this, there was no disaster recovery plan whatsoever.

Ventilation was very poor in the factory and that’s why so many people died from suffocation. Metal grilles were fitted to the windows (to supposedly prevent theft), which ruled out any chance of the victims escaping from windows. Many bodies were found near the windows, which paints a tragic picture of people trying to break the windows but failed and died.

All the factors lead to the fact that the owners, despite poor building structure and absence of safety procedures/equipment, were bent upon increasing their wealth at the cost of poor people. It is also the fault of the relevant government departments who did not take any action in respect of this non-compliance. I appeal to the government to investigate this matter in the most transparent way possible and punish the culprits.

Further, it should be made sure that all the other factories/industrial units have safety equipment installed, disaster recovery procedures are in place and there is proper ventilation so that such accidents/tragedies may be avoided in future.

M. IBRAHIM                   Karachi

Question mark

THE fire tragedies in Karachi and Lahore have raised a big question mark on the working and performance of government departments concerned which have been created to regulate, monitor, inspect and check all industrial units, mills and factories regularly to see whether they are being run according to the law of the land.

Millions of rupees are being spent on them from the national exchequer without having received any progress. The deplorable aspect is that no one has accepted the responsibility of these tragic incidents. Every department is shifting its responsibility on to the other. This speaks volumes about the sense of commitment, dedication and devotion nowadays prevailing in our institutions. Had such incidents taken place in any civilised society, the government would have been booted out from the power corridor.

The nation is in a grip of shock, grief and mourning the death of workers.

The departments of industries, labour, social security, EOBI, civil defence and electric inspection were created and are mainly responsible for ensuring the implementation of labour laws, factory act, safety, health and environmental laws, registration of workers to avoid such accidents and to provide conducive and healthy working environment to the workers according to rules and laws but unfortunately these have miserably failed to discharge their duties as per their job description.

Inefficiency, incompetence, corruption, political postings, political interference in the administration of these departments and OPS appointments have deshaped the government-owned institutions. Favourite postings are sought to earn money and to receive monthlies from factory owners at the cost of the welfare of workers.

The concept of merit and honest earning is unfounded. Labour unions too do not raise their voice against excesses.

I would request that a high-powered judicial commission be constituted to review the performance of these departments across the country. Ministers, secretaries and directors of industries, labour, social security, civil defence, power, EOBI of Sindh and Punjab may also be taken to task and properly investigated to assess their level of responsibility.

They should be booked on murder charges. They should be relieved of their jobs till the finalisation of inquiries and judicial probe. Labour laws, factory act and EOBI laws be implemented in letter and in spirit.

Monthly visit reports and verification certificates be obtained from the respective officers and inspectors to avoid such accidents in future.

TARIQ MAJEED,              Hyderabad

Death in plenty

THE collective vocabulary of all the languages of the world may be inadequate to express the sense of anguish and impotence at the loss of lives in the fire that broke out in the garment factory in Baldia Town. I see the old father crying his almost sightless eyes out, the young woman with despair and hope looking at the barred windows above and listen to the mother’s heart-wrenching wails, and wonder what I would have done had any of my loved ones been one of those trapped in that hell of fire.

This country, in general, and Karachi, in particular, have seen death in plenty over the past decade, and despite most of us having become insensate, there are times when we tremble in the wake of sudden and so much pain, caused by wanton carelessness and greed. More than 250 human beings have been charred beyond recognition, hundreds of families have lost parents and siblings, many of whom were sole breadwinners, and without whom they are likely to spend their lives in poverty.

These workers were engaged in an economic activity that yields high profits for owners -- garment production. This is possible by maintaining extremely low costs of production: low wages, subhuman conditions of work, putting in maximum people in minimum space with little air or allowance for free movement, and no possibility for outlets such as windows and doors.

Whether such killer factories keep prison-like conditions to keep their staff from moving in and out and from talking to each other, or from fear of robberies is unknown.

What is clear that none follow any known safety or labour laws. As the tragedy unfolded over the past 36 hours, and the death count rose by the hour as bodies were recovered from within the bolted and barred interior, the so-called leaders of the country and of the people came up with sympathies for the grieved families; announcement of dole-outs of millions per death; instructions for investigations; days of mourning and strike; declaration of the event as a national tragedy; etc, Every incident that involves death or damage to lives and property of those called ‘common people’ is accompanied by exactly the same announcements.

Whether the money is paid to the families of those who have lost their lives or been wounded is never known.

There is no hope that any government institution or political party will take any action, but I appeal to civil society groups and organisations such as PILER to help set up a support group for the affected families of the Baldia Town tragedy to mobilise them and to file a public litigation case against the provincial government and departments concerned.

NIKHAT SATTAR                   Karachi