Even as the fire was still being put out a day after it engulfed a portion of the New Sabzimandi, vegetable sellers were not sure whether the blaze was a result of arson or because of their negligence.
Giving a mixed response, some said that the whole fire might be the result of arson, “as even electricity poles bent and fell down,” whereas others blamed scavengers for the fire.
Though no casualties were reported, the vegetable sellers mourn the loss of the stock they had as well as the documents they had kept inside their shops.
“What now looks like a garbage heap used to be my shop. I was selling potatoes and onions,” said Mohammad Aleem, a shopkeeper, while speaking to Dawn on Thursday.
Opposite what used to be Aleem’s shop was a dry-cleaning shop owned by Shahid Akbar, who shifted from Narowal a year back and lived inside his shop too. “I could only retrieve my prayer beads, as otherwise everything I owned burned down in the fire,” he added.
According to vegetable sellers, the fire broke out around 12:50pm. “One by one the fire engulfed everything, before we could react properly,” said Mohammad Fazal, a member of one of the several traders’ associations in the market.
The fire department that was called for help came about “two hours late”, the stall owners and shopkeepers complained, and as a result faced the ire of the people.
“Today they showed up early, but we needed them yesterday and no one was here,” cried Munawwar Hussain, a barber working in the area for the past 10 years.
A few steps away from the barber’s shop was a workshop for auto-rickshaws presenting a haunted look, as only wreckage of some vehicles was left.
While most shopkeepers and stall owners thrive on lending small loans to each other, its record went down with their shops and stalls.
In the Sabzimandi compound, most people rent out the space inside the concrete shade to vendors. But for now, one third portion of the area is gutted.
Chief Fire Officer Ehteshamuddin said that it took 15 of their tenders to put out the fire. But he gave a non-committal response about the cause of fire: “It could be because of the immense heat on Wednesday that some of the wooden cartons caught fire that engulfed the whole area.”
Asked why the fire tenders arrived late at the spot, the CFO said: “It was due to the sudden panic and violence in the city that the fire fighters got late.”
Sindh Agriculture Secretary Agha Jan Akhter, however, said that there was a “malicious intent behind the Sabzimandi fire”. He said that the reason why the fire spread out was because the vegetable sellers refused to discard the wooden cartons from the area, “which caught fire, according to initial reports.”
About the number of stalls and shops that were gutted by the fire, Mr Akhter said he was not sure about it, but it’s not in a very large number as reported.
Explaining, he said that the area had no proper infrastructure rather a number of stalls were there in the cemented or iron sheds, “so giving an exact amount of damage is difficult”.
Chairman of a traders’ association in New Sabzi Mandi, Abdul Razzaq, warned that if the people were not compensated properly and in time (within five days), there will be a citywide closure of vegetable shops and the workers would go on strike.”
For that purpose, he called a meeting of market traders on Friday to take a decision.
However, Mr Akhter said that he ‘does not foresee a big strike,’ as people would surely be compensated.
Also, he said, “neither the vegetables are disappearing from the market nor they’d be sold on an expensive price. It was not a wholesale cloth market that caught fire, rather a vegetable market that gets fresh stock everyday.”
He added that the whole incident was a result of ‘poor governance on everyone’s part,’ as the area had seen an increase in encroachers and scrap sellers that affects the overall functioning of the market.
- Text and photos by Saher Baloch/Dawn.com