LAHORE: The Punjab Civil Defence department, an establishment to provide rescue and relief services in times of calamities and emergencies, is in a deplorable state of operation and governance owing to the acute shortage of funds and human resources.
The provincial government’s decision to slash 24% of the funds meant for dailywage volunteers of the department has further aggravated the situation. Per details, out of the 82,000 approved jobs for volunteers, 30,000 are currently lying vacant.
Meanwhile, out of a total of 52,000 volunteers registered with the department, only 7,300 actually work on a regular basis. Even after having such a small number of volunteers, not all of them are paid and only 2,112 of them receive a daily allowance.
To alleviate the crisis, the director of civil defence Punjab has forwarded various proposals to the provincial home department suggesting ways to reorganise the civil defence department and overcome its shortage of funds and staff.
The recommendations include the imposition of heavy fines through amendments in the Civil Defence Act 1952/1994 and proposals for recruiting fire safety inspectors at a tehsil level.
Similarly, a proposal to conduct a survey on fire safety measures across commercial establishments in Punjab with the help of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has also been forwarded.
What’s more, summer camps will be set up in Murree to impart civil defence training to students of private and government educational institutions.
The department will also set up a ‘Razakar Behbood Fund’ aimed at the welfare of the civil defence volunteers through the support of the provincial government and elite social figures.
Details also showed that the civil defense department has been suffering from serious problems due to the negligence of the government for the past several years.
The department has been showing poor performance as there have been no upgrades or promotions.
Volunteers of the civil defence are expected to perform their duties during all key events held at the district levels, including religious gatherings, where they are deployed alongside police officers.
There are two types of volunteers in the Civil Defense Department, those who work without any compensation, while others are paid an allowance of Rs557 every day.
These 2,112 volunteers are the only ones drawing an allowance from the civil defence department.
In its municipal law, the provincial government has included a provision whereby 1% of the local government’s budget for each district will be used to improve civil defence facilities within that district. However, the law has not been implemented in letter and spirit.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, the Civil Defense Punjab Director Altaf Baloch said the department plays a pivotal role in both peace and war.
“During times of peace, we provide training to the public and the department has so far trained more than 150,000 school and college students across Punjab,” he said.
“Akin to that, 34,000 people have been trained in the commercial sector, while 19,000 workers from government departments and 80,000 civilians have also received training from us.”
During the past year, fines amounting to Rs12.5 million were imposed on commercial units during the inspection of civil defence and safety facilities.
Moreover, fines of Rs15 million were imposed in the first six months of the current fiscal year. “From the beginning of November to December 21, we have registered 1,221 cases while inspecting oil agencies, petrol pumps and LPG-filling stations.
Accordingly, 1,170 places have been closed because of the absence of adequate safety measures in place,” Baloch said.
He lamented that at the present there are no fire-safety schedules in place that could comply with the international civil defence standard, adding that the department is working to amend the law so that training programmes can be made more modernised and efficient.
“We are planning to start a summer camp programme for students, where schools from different cities will participate. That apart, we are preparing to inaugurate a control room at the Civil Defense Headquarters in Lahore.”