Another killer fire

Circumstances surrounding the Karachi factory fire point to element of neglect arising from greed and complacency


August 29, 2021

The circumstances surrounding the factory fire in Karachi on Friday points to the element of neglect arising from greed and complacency. It came reminding the fact that we have learnt nothing from the Baldia factory fire of 2012. At least 16 workers, between 18 and 38 years of age, died in the tragedy. Three of the victims were brothers and five others close relatives.

The factory was housed in a ground-plus-two-storey building in Korangi Industrial Area. In spite of the fact that the area is congested, fire safety measures on the factory premises were found to be missing. There was only one passage for entry and exit in the building where dozens worked. There was no emergency exit either and all windows were barred with grill. Many workers had been trapped inside the workplace, and most of the 16 died of suffocation after they inhaled smoke. Many others have been injured. The fire spread rapidly due to the presence of adhesive material and chemicals, used in the manufacture of leather bags and briefcases, in the factory.

Fire brigade experts declared the blaze a third-degree fire. It took the fire fighters several hours to put out the blaze. The government has ordered an inquiry into the fire specifically asking for the date, month and year when the last inspection of the factory was carried out. It remains an unknown whether labour inspectors physically did inspections at regular intervals or it was carried out merely on paper. Serious doubts about in-person inspections arise considering the prevailing state of official apathy towards public issues.

As usual, the authorities have taken ‘serious’ notice of the incident. Spokesmen for the government acted like making predictions about the past — fire-safety measures at the factory were next to nothing, the fire started at 10:10am and fire tenders were rushed to the spot without any delay. Survivors of the tragedy, however, claim that fire extinguishers arrived too late. Dependents of the dead and injured will be paid compensation as admissible under the rules, but over what period? Difficult to say. For a few days, the inferno tragedy will remain in the news, and then all will be forgotten. Do workers’ lives and voice matter?

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2021.

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