The Orient Labs factory on Multan Road that collapsed on February 6 was brought down not by a boiler blast, but by an explosion caused by leaking gas cylinders, according to an inquiry conducted by a four-member committee of the Punjab government.
Twenty six workers, many of them women and children, were killed when the four-storey structure in Hassan Town on Multan Road caved in. Initial reports suggested that the factory, which was located in a residential area, had collapsed due to a boiler blast.
However, the committee found no evidence of a boiler explosion at the factory, said an official privy to the committee’s workings. He said that the committee had inspected the site and recorded witness statements.
The committee’s inquiry report stated that a large number of cylinders filled with oxygen, nitrogen and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) were kept in the factory compound. Gases from these cylinders had leaked and accumulated in the room overnight. Workers arriving at the factory on the morning of the incident had lit a fire for warmth, causing an explosion. The structure was already extremely unstable and the blast caused it to collapse, according to the report.
The committee recommended action against officials of the city government, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), the Industries, Labour and Environment Departments, and the federal and provincial drug control authorities for extreme criminal negligence under the Anti Terrorist Act as well as departmental proceedings, the official said.
The owners of Orient Labs rented a two-storey house on Multan Road in 1982 and installed a heavy boiler and other machinery to manufacture human and veterinary medicines. Later, the owners built two more brick-and-mud storeys without the approval of the authorities concerned.
The committee’s report stated that the LDA had sealed the factory in 2007 following complaints from nearby residents, but the owner de-sealed it illegally. The last regular inspection took place in December 2002. The city government had directed the owners to shift the factory in 2000, but it did not do so. The LDA should have demolished two floors of the building in line with the Supreme Court’s verdict in the high rise buildings case, but it did not.
The committee recommended that cases be registered against the officials responsible, including the Sabzazar station house officer, under Sections 166 and 167 (for action against public servants), 284 (negligence with regard to a poisonous substance) and 322 (being the cause of a death) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The investigation of the case should be entrusted to an officer of the rank of superintendent of police.
The committee recommended the creation of a municipal police force in the province’s big cities to ensure implementation of municipal laws. The district coordination officer should be directed to demolish all buildings constructed in violation of bylaws. All factories situated in residential areas should be shifted immediately and a building control agency should be established to enforce town planning and building bylaws.
The owners of the factory should also be charged under the relevant laws against child labour, said the committee’s report. It recommended that the owners pay diyat compensation to the families of the 26 dead and to the injured, in addition to paying compensation to the owners of adjacent buildings which were damaged in the explosion.
About boilers, the committee said that the government should ensure all factories use qualified boiler engineers to check them. Utility companies should be directed to discontinue services and supplies to all factories located in residential areas.
The committee recommended that the Health and Livestock Departments move a reference to the federal government with a request to take action against officials of the federal Drug Regulatory Authority.
The committee, which has presented its report to the chief minister for action, consisted of Home Secretary Shahid Khan, the chairman of the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team, the Lahore commissioner and a deputy inspector general of Punjab Police.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2012.