More than 250 people were consumed by fire as flames turned a garment factory in Baldia Town Karachi town into an abattoir. Death toll from factory fire shocks the nation as the tragedy was beyond one’s imagination. Hundreds of people were burnt alive or from suffocation and their family members could do nothing but watch in despair as flames swallowed the fateful factory.
Scenes of dismay engulfed Karachi since last two days. Relatives of ill fated factory workers desperately searched for their mothers, daughters, sisters, sons, brothers, husbands, fathers among the dozens of badly mutilated bodies, burnt beyond recognition. People went out of words when behind the flames and smoke a dead body was seen stuck to a window as if the victim had been trying to jump from the window but poor fellow just couldn’t make it in time. Karachi has never witnessed such heart-wrenching scenes before. Hundreds of workers trapped into a dilapidated factory where there was no emergency exist, with iron grilled windows and locked doors. Can anyone imagine their level of desperation for survival when they had been using sewing machines to smash windows to jump out but still couldn’t make it?
Factories in Pakistan are concentration camps where workers are denied their basic rights guaranteed in the constitution. The factory Act of 1934 has clauses on occupational safety but Pakistan lacks any law on emergency exists. A factory with over 700 employees with 60 to 70 women and six to eight children had only one exit point and this is not the only one there are many other factories working in the country where owners don’t bother about safety precautions. In west if someone manages or operates a business, he needs to comply with fire safety law first of all. Employer or owner is required to carry out a mandatory detailed fire risk assessment identifying the risks and hazards in the premises. The risk assessment must be recorded if he has a total of five or more employees.
Ironically in Pakistan government agencies and officials are as usual busy in shifting blame at each other rather than finding out why factory with such appalling condition was allowed to operate. The factory owners are still at large and police is raiding to arrest him. But are they only responsible for this worst disaster? The factory had weak structure, no emergency exit, there were no fire safety arrangements then why these facts were not highlighted earlier? How such factories get the clearance from government departments without meeting the safety standards? Who gave it a clearance certificate? Culpable officials, whose criminal negligence resulted in such worst disaster, must be identified and punished at first stage.
The tragedy not only resulted in hundreds of deaths but it has also exposed the weakness of the emergency response system of the country. There is no system in the country of fire hydrants, which are used in the west to supply water at high pressure to fire tenders. In Pakistan government has machines to demolish kachi abadis but they don’t have machines to rescue workers in such terrible incident. Pakistan has no concept of fire safety. Structures of offices, schools, factories, hospitals and other places have more or less no fire safety equipments. No fire safety trainings held for workers. Fire safety procedures are next to nil in Pakistan. Concerned authorities have failed in their responsibilities but such worst adversity is enough to wake them up from their deep slumber. This is the high time that all concerned departments must ensure the implementation of labor protection rules and fire codes without further delay.