HYDERABAD: For Muhammad Hashim, the CNG leak in a passenger van on the Matiari Bypass, was nothing less than a tragedy. His 30-year-old wife Irfana and five daughters were burnt to death on Wednesday night.
Hashim, a resident of Bakra Mandi, Hyderabad, had to muster courage and bury his wife, seven-year-old Fatima, five-year-old Faryal, four-year-old Bisma, three-year-old Maryam and Ghausia in the Tando Yousuf graveyard.
Investigators claim that the van caught fire after a CNG cylinder started to leak inside the van and the driver managed to escape unhurt. They added that in total, 23 people were travelling in the van.
Asif and Samreen were on their way home to Ali Garh Colony, Karachi, with their children, two-and-a-half-month-old Shahzeb and two-year-old Jahanzeb. As the fire started to spread through the van, they pulled themselves out through the wind screen at the back but could not save their children.
A witness told The Express Tribune that he saw both of them cry as the fire engulfed their children inside. The two children were laid to rest at the Saifullah Shah Bukhari graveyard in Shahdadpur. Asif had taken his family to visit Samreen’s parents in Shahdadpur. Maryam, 11, nine-year-old Owais and six-year-old Talha were also buried there.
Ghaffar Mallah was injured in the fire and remembered how everyone was screaming and then everything fell quiet. “I was sitting by the door,” he said. “When the flames started to flare up, a person sitting next to me tried to open the door but broke the handle instead.” He added that with the help of seven other people in the van they managed to break the windows and get out of the burning vehicle. Mallah said that they would have been able to escape earlier if a van conductor had been present. He added that the man who broke the handle had no idea what he was doing.
According to Mallah, they were taken to the hospital five minutes later by the motorway police.
Eleven people, including ten children, who were burnt to death in the van were laid to rest on Thursday. The bodies were burnt beyond recognition. Another 11 were injured out of which four were taken to hospitals in Karachi.
Nadeem Ahmed Mughal, a final-year civil engineering student at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, was severely burnt on the face, lower back and arms. He will not be able to sit through his final semester. He has already appeared for four of the seven papers he needs to graduate. “The three remaining papers will be held on December 10, December 14 and December 16,” he said. “I will not be able to sit my exams because of the burns.” According to Mughal’s classmates, he had passed all seven semesters in the last three and a half years. Mughal asked the university administration to help him and not let his last academic year go to waste.
The investigation report
“The van was fitted with three compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinders, all placed under the passenger seats,” said Sahibuddin Khwaja, the senior research officer of the Hydrocarbon Development Institute of Pakistan. “But, none of them exploded in the fire.”
Khwaja came from the institute’s head office in Karachi to examine the vehicle and submit a technical report. “I noticed the leakage in the refilling walls of the cylinders,” he said. “This might have caused gas accumulation which could have led to the fire.” He added that one of the passengers had told him that they could smell gas in the van.
He mention three violations of regulations made by the van owner, ie, the cylinders were placed under the passenger seats, the van only had a capacity of 16 passengers by 23 were present and there was no proper installation line clamping. In his report he suggested that there should be a ban on illegal conversions of vehicles from petrol to CNG and a ban on smoking on public transport.
The FIR was registered at a police station in Matiari under sections 285, 320 and 337-G. The van’s owner Vakil Rajput, and the driver Ramesh Bheel were nominated by Muhammad Hashim’s brother Muhammad Ishaq.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2011.