It is inconceivable that all laws, rules and regulations regarding fire safety, registration of workers and their right of compensation in case of accidents exist only on paper. The federal and provincial government departments, the relevant minister and the local administration, whose responsibility it is to enforce these laws and regulations, have failed in performing their duties. Each one of them is responsible for the deaths of those who perished in the fire. The responsibility equally lies with the seths who owned and operated the factory. Press reports inform that the names of the factory’s owners have been placed on the ECL as they may try to flee the country. They have a residence in Karachi. Why not round up their families and make them face the families of those who perished? Why not confiscate their properties and all other assets to compensate the victims’ families?
The hundreds who worked in the factory were not registered workers and therefore not entitled to compensation for accidents and other facilities. The government officials who overlooked this aspect should be identified and punished. There is not an iota of shame in the people at the helm at all levels. The system thrives on gratification for looking the other way while laws and rules are violated. It is frightening to imagine the number of offices, factories and large residential buildings across the country waiting for similar disasters because the authorities concerned may have taken bribes to overlook the lack of safety regulations.
It is being said that various explosions were heard in the unfortunate garment factory and then the fire erupted. Another version is that the owners failed to pay extortion money and as a result their factory was burnt to ashes. I sincerely hope that the committee formed to investigate the accident digs out the facts. Irrespective of what caused the fire, there was obvious failure on the part of the factory owners and its management to handle such a situation. There was only one entry and exit door in the whole factory where about 1500 people worked, and as one source quoted, this was the fourth fire in the factory.
Despite this, there was no disaster management plan in place. Leave alone disaster management plan, even ventilation in the factory was very poor and the majority of people died of suffocation. The metal grills fitted at the windows, supposedly to prevent theft, ruled out any chance of the victims escaping from the windows. All the factors lead to the fact that the owners, despite poor building structure and absence of safety procedures and equipment, were bent on increasing their wealth at the cost of the poor people.
The loss of so many lives in the Karachi fire accident is by all measures a national tragedy. What happened to the unfortunate victims is known to all but why this happened is still unknown and needs to be accurately determined. There is a serious need to introduce and enforce industrial safety measures across Pakistan as tragedies like this, on a smaller scale though, keep happening throughout the year. How many buildings in the country have functional fire-fighting equipment, let alone proper safety system?
A few exceptions notwithstanding, the very concept of workplace safety is foreign to us. It is about time some concrete steps were taken to avoid a repetition of what happened in Karachi. While the government should play its part in enforcing building and industrial safety laws, the wholehearted participation of the private sector in enforcing these regulations at all levels is equally important. The government should introduce public awareness drives through print and electronic media. As for the Karachi tragedy, those responsible for this mass murder should not be allowed to go scot-free.
What a strange nation we have become. Such a major tragedy happened in the provincial capital but, even after the passage of more than 42 hours, the home ministry of Sindh has not taken any action against the authorities concerned which issued license to the garment factory without checking the prerequisites including safety and fire precautions which could have prevented this accident. It seems we’ve forgotten the value of a human life.
Mujtaba Sohail Raja