‘Centaurus Mall has no fire safety system’

High-rise operating sans NOC and in violation of building bylaws

Usama Iqbal October 13, 2022
A fire erupted at the third floor of Centaurus Mall in Islamabad on October 09, 2022 / Photo: Screen-grab


An initial probe into the Centaurus Mall fire incident has discovered that the high-rise did not have a valid no-objection certificate (NOC) and it was functioning in violation of building bylaws.

Sources privy to the development told The Express Tribune that the management of the Centaurus Shopping Mall in Sector F-8 — one of Islamabad’s top attractions — not only violated the approved building plan but also occupied the building without getting formal approval from the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

The sources said that the Centaurus Mall neither has a fire and safety system in place under the CDA Act nor has it been issued the NOC as per the Building Code of Pakistan.

The sources said that Centaurus Mall’s management failed to follow the building plan approved in January 2008 by the CDA Building Control Department.

According to the sources, the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad’s Fire Emergency and Disaster Management Department continuously issued notices to the mall since 2016 to comply with the building bylaws and fire safety standards but the management conveniently ignored the warnings.

According to sources, the mall's management also failed to submit a contingency plan to the CDA. Negligence was shown by the mall’s management regarding fire safety under the Pakistan Building Code, 2016, and CDA’s Building Standards for Fire Prevention and Life Safety, 2016, the sources said adding that frequent notices by the MCI for obtaining the NOC for fire and safety were ignored by the management of the Centaurus Mall.

The mall’s management also failed to abide by the mandatory testing of the fire control system, the annual safety agreement, and the safety plan.

According to the sources, MCI officials told the inquiry that the safety of shops, apartments and the food court was an important component of the building bylaws but the Centaurus Mall has failed to submit such a contingency plan to the civic agencies.

According to the CDA Act, high-rise buildings must have experienced and dedicated staff on every floor to deal with emergencies but the staff deployed at the Centaurus Mall was not trained enough to tackle such tragedies.

According to an internal audit earlier, the CDA’s Building Control Directorate had approved 748 feet of height for the mall without getting an NOC from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Later, when the CAA objected to the height and issued the NOC for 500 feet for the hotel tower, and 417 feet for other blocks/apartments of the mall, and the CDA furnished the approved plan to the Pak Gulf Pvt (Ltd) — the architect and the construction firm — which by then had started construction on the building, but it stopped payment of Rs2.115 billion to the civic agency for the height restriction.

Interestingly, the architectural plan submitted by the designer was approved by the CDA Building Control Directorate in June 2006 even before the formulation of by-laws and zoning regulations for such special projects or high-rise buildings by the civic agency’s planning wing.

The internal audit said that the construction firm carried out unauthorised construction on the mall in violation of the approved design, while the CDA’s monitoring team failed to notice the violations.

The audit highlighted that 32 storeys were constructed in respect of Block A and B against the approved 30 storeys, while in Block C, 30 storeys were constructed against the approved 29 storeys.

In March 2014, an audit team also pointed out the irregularity but the CDA swept the audit recommendation under the carpet and no action was taken against the officials responsible.

When contacted, the Centaurus Mall management said that an opinion will be shared with the media after consultation with their legal team.


Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2022.


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