The district government is perhaps waiting for a repeat of the twin industrial fire accidents in Lahore and Karachi to justify action against illegal factories operating in the residential areas of Rawalpindi.
Business activities cannot be carried out in residential areas and the Town Municipal Administration (TMA) officers are bound to ensure a conducive environment for residents under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance. But a survey of the garrison city, reveals that the ground reality is quite different.
Around 130 illegal factories are functioning in various residential areas of the city, out of which 40 are located in Khyaban-e-Sir Syed, Bagh Sardaran and Khyaban-e-Iqbal areas.
Residents of Khyaban-e-Iqbal (old Badar and Bangash colonies) say illegal commercial activities in the area have made their lives miserable because of noxious fumes given off during recycling and leather refining coupled with noise pollution.
In a written complaint to the Punjab chief minister and the departments concerned, residents stated they feared occurrences of fire accidents and outbreak of diseases.
Small fires regularly break out as there is no firefighting system or emergency exit, they added. Chemicals are stored in great quantity on factory premises without safety precautions.
Former naib nazim Malik Asif Akbar alleged that the residential area was being used for commercial activities in connivance with the TMA staff as no one would dare start a business without the authority’s support.
He alleged officials were given monthly bribes by factory owners to look the other way.
“The main gates of such factories always remain closed to hide illegal operations, Akbar said.
He added these factories are not registered with any government institution like the Provincial Labour Department, Civil Defence Department or Workers Welfare Board.
Factory inspections have never been carried out either, he said.
Former councillor of Rawal Town, Shahida Shabbir has called upon the district coordination officer (DCO) to take immediate notice of illegal businesses and clear residential areas of factories which are polluting the environment.
When contacted, no TMA official was available for comment on the record. However, an official requesting anonymity, admitted there was mushroom growth of illegal factories in housing colonies.
He said the DCO has directed the departments concerned to shift factories from residential areas to the industrial zone and ensure appropriate safety measures and installation of firefighting equipment in industrial units.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2012.