City officials of various departments have denied responsibility and shifted blame on to each other for the lack of inspections at chemical storage sites, one of which caught fire on Friday night and released a large cloud of pungent gas above parts of the Walled City.
There are thousands of godowns storing chemicals in the Walled City. These are located beneath buildings and even roads. A survey conducted by Ravi Town TMO Ahmed Kamal in 2009 found 2,600 godowns.
DO (Industries) Muhammad Azhar said that town authorities issued licences for godowns for commercial purposes and his office could not stop that.
But Data Ganj Baksh Town Officer (Planning) Qamarul Islam, who fractured his foot at the scene of the fire on Friday night, said that the towns did not have “any direct power” to check these storage sites and this was the responsibility of the DO (Industries). He said that the Civil Defence and Environment Protection departments also had the authority to check a building which posed a threat to human life.
Officials from the DO (Environment) office said that they were busy with other activities and didn’t have time to check the godowns. They said that the Punjab Local Government Ordinance gave the town municipal administrations the power to check or close dangerous godowns.
Asked which department was responsible for inspection, DCO Naseem Sadiq gave no clear answer. He said that he had set up a four-member committee to conduct a survey in the city identifying godowns which store chemicals. He said that the 2009 survey report was unreliable and only covered the Walled City. The new survey is to be finished in four weeks, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2013.