Mehran Town: Factory not registered with any dept

Inquiry reports say owner employed unskilled labour without providing training


Sajid Rauf/Nasir Butt September 09, 2021
Workers are feared dead as smoke billows inside the factory, fire brigade officials said. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI:

Probe into the Mehran Town factory fire has found that the industrial unit operating in a residential area was not registered with any government department, it emerged on Wednesday.

Reports submitted to the police by the Sindh labour department, the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA), Karachi Development Authority (KDA) and the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) revealed that the factory was not registered with any department nor were the labourers provided any kind of training.

As the Korangi Industrial Area Police continue their investigation into the blaze that killed 16 labourers last month at the factory producing luxury luggage bags they have sought reports from the labour department, SBCA, KDA, SECP, the K-Electric, fire department and the Civil Defence Directorate General.

The reports from the latter three are still awaited.

Findings

The investigation police has found that the factory owner, Ali Hassan Mehta, holds dual nationality of Pakistan and the United Kingdom (UK). Report received by the KDA states that the 600 yard plot of land on which the factory was built was allotted to a man named Tariq Faisal.

The factory was operational on a plot listed as a residential site. Besides, as reported by the labour department and the SECP, the factory was not registered with either of the two authorities nor were its workers and employees provided any training.

Read Suspects’ bail extended in factory fire case

Mehta had rented the premises for Rs300,000 per month from Faisal and the luggage bags manufactured in the factory would be exported to other countries for sale, reveals the investigation thus far.

The investigators learnt that factory was issued a metered electricity connection in 2010. The police, who approached KE on Tuesday, have asked the power utility to confirm details of the power consumption at the factory.

Investigators have asked how much power load was approved for the factory, how much of it was used and how much load the wiring installed in the factory could withstand. The police have also questioned the power utility on the number of times the industrial unit was inspected.

Thus far, KE has confirmed that the metered electric connection was issued in 2010. The other details will be provided after the power utility collects its records, said the police.

Meanwhile, the report of the fire department, which had initially concluded that the fire was sparked by a short circuit, is yet awaited. The FIR lodged at the Korangi Industrial Police Station on behalf of the state notes that the building had a single entry and exit point. There was no emergency exit.

When the fire broke out, workers trapped inside the factory ran up to the roof to save themselves but found the gate at the stairs locked. Witnesses said that a watchman outside was asked to open the gate but he ignored their pleas and was attempting to communicate with Mehta instead.

The building owner, Tariq Faisal, factory owner, Ali Hassan Mehta, factory manager, Imran Zaidi, two supervisors, Zafar and Rehan, and the watchman, Syed Zarin, have been nominated in the FIR lodged under Section 322 read with 34 [pertaining to unintentional murder] of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

With no way out, 16 workers suffocated to death in the deadly blaze. The father of one of the young victims also died of a heart attack after seeing his son's body at the hospital, bringing the death toll to 17. Faisal, Mehta and Zaidi were arrested on Tuesday as they attempted to flee the court premises after being denied bail. The watchman Zarin has also been arrested.

Read more Factory fire put out after 21 hours

Deadly negligence

Labour leaders and rights activists have highlighted that the authorities failed to learn after the Baldia factory fire in which more than 260 workers were burnt alive in 2012.

At a press conference at the Karachi Press Club last week, they regretted that factory owners, government departments and society at large have failed to ensure safety at workplaces. They pointed out that hazardous workplaces mint money for industrialists at the cost of workers' health and safety but law enforcement agencies and the labour department turn a blind eye.

In its written order on interim bail pleas of the accused, the East district and sessions court also held the relevant government departments responsible for the blaze along with the factory owners. The court noted that no official from the labour department or any other government department inspected the factory, which was operational on a residential plot.

The verdict noted that the industrial unit had no fire safety arrangements and that the single entry and exit point was also barred. It further noted that the fire tenders arrived late with insufficient water to douse the blaze and the civil defence personnel were untrained.

It added that the owners have produced letters of correspondence with the relevant departments but they are of no use after such an incident has already occurred.

The court added that if they were not other concerns such as the destruction of evidence bail may have been granted.

Separately, the SBCA had earlier suspended three officials posted in Korangi over their failure to inform the higher ups about the factory, the cause of the fire and the status of the plot.

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