KARACHI: The department responsible for assisting the armed forces during times of war or emergency and for the inspection of fire safety of all buildings in Sindh does not even have a photostat machine of its own.
According to the Schedule for New Expenditure by the civil defence department sent to the Sindh government - a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune - the existing photostat machine is out of order and not repairable.
"The photostat machine is one part of running routine official business. So this directorate of civil defence requires one photostat machine on a priority basis," reads the letter.
The story does not end here. After the deadly Regent Plaza fire, the question sprung up about whose responsibility it was to inspect the four-star hotel. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah called a meeting in which he was informed about the civil defence department and its deteriorating condition through a presentation.
What is civil defence?
According to the presentation, the civil defence is a government organisation created to meet all disasters, whether caused by enemies or by natural disasters. The term disaster refers to any kind of incident which disrupts people's lives and as a result they need protection, food, clothing, shelter and medical care.
The basic functions of this department are to establish, recruit and train warden service organisations, to assist the armed forces during times of war or declared emergency and to provide air raid warnings. The department's basic training includes awareness regarding fire fighting, casualty services, rescue services, warden services and air raid courses.
Training is given to government and semi-government employees."Had the department been giving training incidents like the Regent Plaza or Baldia Town fires wouldn't have been so deadly," said an official of the department on the condition of anonymity.
The department, the official explained, works under the federal as well as the provincial government's home ministry. The training schools, he said are under the federal government, whereas the inspection of buildings is a provincial subject, according to the Civil Defence Act, 1952.
The district's deputy commissioner is the controller of the civil defence in that particular district under whom the deputy controller of the civil defence works, according to the official, and by law they are supposed to inspect all construction in their districts for fire safety measures.
In a sorry state
On paper, the working strength of the department in Sindh is 293, said the official, out of which 147 are incumbent, while the other 146 posts lying vacant. The Sindh government isn't paying any attention to the matter, he said. In Karachi's districts Malir and Korangi the department, its staff and its building have ceased to exist. Districts Sajawal, Sanghar, Ghotki and Shikarpur are also in need of office buildings and staff.
Apart from this, the department has no rescue vehicles, ambulances, fire tenders or training equipment. There are not funds for an honorarium for volunteers ready to work with them.
"At times we have to replace our uniforms ourselves as the department has no funds available," lamented the official. According to the Schedule for New Expenditure prepared by the department, the four districts of the port city where they have offices are in need of stationary worth Rs80,000 each. The department has requested Rs100,000 funds for uniforms and protective clothing for each district. The same is the case for the rest of Sindh.
The department has requested two computers, as the existing stock that were purchased in 2007 have gone out of order, two multimedia projectors as one of the responsibilities of the department is to arrange training programmes and activities.
"The existing multimedia projector is being used for training purposes but is insufficient as many training sessions can run at the same time," the letter reads.
The allocated budget, according to the document, for the fiscal year 2015-16 was Rs16,661,500. In the 2014-15 budget, the funds were not released and this year's estimated budget is Rs113,592,000 and several of the items that have been approved, such as computers, have not been given to the department yet, claimed the official.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2017.