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March 11, 2019

Body investigating Qasr-e-Naz tragedy seeks fumigation record


March 11, 2019

The fact-finding committee that was formed to investigate the Qasr-e-Naz tragedy, in which six members of a family from Balochistan, including five children, died in the city due to suspected food poisoning, has sought a detailed report from the relevant officials involved in fumigation at Qasr-e-Naz, the guesthouse where the family stayed.

It has been reported that the guesthouse had been fumigated when the family came from Balochistan to stay there. The effects of fumigation, which involved a toxic compound aluminium phosphide, have also been suspected as a possible reason for the deaths, in addition to the consumption of toxic food by the family which they purchased from a restaurant.

Regarding the report on fumigation, a letter has been sent by the Pakistan Public Works Department, the government of Pakistan to an executive engineer of the Central Civil Division, Karachi.

The subject of the letter is “Fact Finding Inquiry into unfortunate death of guests staying in Room 58-A, Qasr-e-Naz, Karachi”. The letter asks the executive engineer to provide the relevant record pertaining to the supply of aluminium phosphide. It also seeks details regarding the responsibilities of various officials, including the sub-engineer, assistant executive engineer, executive engineer and superintending engineer.

“Besides when you joined duties why you failed in adopting precautionary measures to maintain store of lodge in accordance with rules and why the charge of the store was not handed over to Sub-Engineer who is also residing in the Federal Lodge Qasr-e-Naz, Karachi,” the letter reads.

The letter also charges the officer with concealing facts. “You have clearly forgotten the duties of Sub-Engineer as well as Assistant Executive Engineer which clearly indicate that you are concealing the facts,” it reads.

The executive engineer was directed in the letter to furnish attested copies of some record on March 10, 2019 at 9am positively, so that the inquiry could be conducted without any further loss of time as a report has to be urgently submitted to the Ministry of Housing and Works.

The officer was told to furnish details of the authority to purchase aluminium phosphide and whether any precautionary measures were taken while using the substance in Qasr-e-Naz. The letter stated that parliamentarians who visited Karachi on official tours also stayed at the guest house whereas officers of the federal government also frequently resided there due to which extra care was required in running the affairs of Qasr-e-Naz.

The executive engineer was also told to explain the rules and regulations of carrying out fumigation and whether aluminium phosphide was allowed in fumigation as it was never used in federal lodges in Islamabad, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar.

Record regarding the initial approval of aluminium phosphide was also sought along with the instructions issued for its utilisation as per the Quarantine Act, 1976. Other relevant record was also sought including tenders invited for fumigation, up-keep material and Form-8 of the up-keep material of Qasr-e-Naz.

The officer was also told to explain his stance on the sum of Rs4.6 million deposited in the bank account. “If the same amounts are no more required why the same are being charged when the very purpose is void now,” the letter reads.

The letter also sought the inspection report during the officer’s tenure and an explanation over the residing of the sub-engineer in the servant quarter of the guesthouse for a long time. “Who authorised him?” the letter asks, adding that the sub-engineer was also drawing house rent allowance.

“Furnish inspection report of Superintending Engineer as required under Pak PWD Code. Why you failed to act upon the contents of Pak PWD, Code under which you were duty bound to point out the mismanagement of your predecessor. Why Sub-Engineer/AEE failed to enter Aluminum Phosphide in Form-8?” the letter reads.

“The store was to be kept under the custody of Sub-Engineer [who would] issue Aluminum Phosphide to the caretaking staff with the specific instructions to Controller of Qasr-e-Naz,” the letter states. “Furnish documentary evidences related to pest control/ fumigation/ anti-termite works carried out by the department of Pak PWD, for the last 5 years.”

According to sources, the fact-finding committee is headed by MB Khattak who is also the chief administrative officer. The committee shall submit its final report after the submission of above record by the officials in question. Further investigations are under way.

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