KARACHI: The fire station nearest the ill-fated garment factory in Baldia Town had not had a water supply for several years over unpaid bills.
“Even today, the water connection to the SITE fire station has not been restored,” said former city administrator Faheem Zaman – the guest speaker at a discussion on the Baldia fire held by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at its office on Friday.
On September 11, more than 250 people were burnt alive in the inferno at Ali Enterprises, which is located along with 2,000 other factories within the jurisdiction of SITE fire station.
While talking to The Express Tribune, chief fire officer Ehtishamuddin confirmed that the water supply to SITE fire station had been disconnected, adding that in case of a fire in the area, the tenders go for a fill up at the Liaquatabad post office pumping station.
“At the time when I was the city administrator during Benazir Bhutto’s last tenure, 50 fire tenders were imported,” said Zaman, pointing out that the budget for the fire department was Rs255 million, but it was not properly used. “On paper, this city has 36 fire tenders, all without number plates.”
The former administrator questioned the Baldia factory owners’ decision to affix iron grilles at the windows since they had also installed CCTV cameras to check pilferage. “Not only Ali Enterprises, almost everyone in the city has grilles or sealed windows [at their factories],” claimed Zaman.
At the factory, hydrocarbon- and petroleum-based products, like polyester, plastic packing and mixed cloth, intensified the fire and produced toxic gases. Some of the bodies were so badly burnt that they turned into ashes and could not even be taken for DNA sampling. “The factory owners are giving a false impression that they were only exporting denim,” he added.
Under the Factory Act of 1934, the inspection of factories is the responsibility of district magistrates and not labour inspectors, said the former Karachi administrator.
At the discussion, the HRCP activists also shared their fact-finding report, alleging that the factory owners were more interested in saving the merchandise instead of the workers.
The main gate of the factory was locked until the fire fighters broke them, HRCP council member Asad Iqbal Butt claimed. The fire fighters also had no equipment or fire suits to go inside the factory. The people had called up private tankers to douse the fire.
“The first thing to do is to challenge the [factory] bylaws, as the penalty for flouting the rules is only Rs500,” said Faheem Zaman, calling for stronger legislations.
Social activist Farhat Parveen said that a list be made of all those who died and those present at the factory when the fire broke out.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2012.