Saturday Aug 28 2021

Karachi factory fire: Civic bodies pass the buck over allowing factory to operate on residential plot

A massive blaze has killed 17 people in a Karachi’s chemical factory.
A massive blaze has killed 17 people in a Karachi’s chemical factory.
  • The chemical factory was operating on a residential plot in Korangi's Mehran Town.
  • The plot C-40 where the chemical factory was situated, was a residential plot as per KDA's record, says KDA DG. 
  • There cannot be commercial activities on residential plots, he stresses.

KARACHI: A massive blaze that had killed 17 people in a chemical factory has exposed the performance of the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) and Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) as the industrial unit was situated on a residential plot, it emerged on Saturday.

According to a report published in The News, in violations of the rules, the chemical factory was being operated on a residential plot in Korangi's Mehran Town area.

Both the KDA and SBCA, which come under the provincial local government ministry, appeared to be passing the buck when asked how a chemical factory was operating in a residential area.

KDA Director General (DG) Asif Memon told The News that the 600-square-yard plot C-40 where the chemical factory was situated was a residential plot as per the KDA record.

“The plot in our records is residential,” he said, adding that since 2017, the plot’s owner, according to their land record, was Faisal Tariq.

There cannot be commercial activities on residential plots, he stressed. He, however, absolved the KDA of any responsibility for the incident, saying that the approval of building plans and monitoring was the responsibility of the master plan department and the SBCA.

When asked if the KDA ever wrote to the plot owner or the building control authority regarding the industrial use of the plot, he responded that he had no knowledge of that and had to get it checked.

Meanwhile, SBCA spokesperson Faran Qaiser said that teams of the building control authority reached the site after the fire was extinguished but could not get access to the building as the cooling process was underway.

Regarding the issue of illegal change in the land use of the plot, he said the SBCA would look into it and release a report by Monday.

Building regulations

It is pertinent to mention here that the fire laws of buildings are provided under the SBCA's Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulations, 2002. The fire department of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has to certify the buildings' fire safety precautions and the civil defence department is supposed to conduct inspections regularly.

None of these departments, however, seem to be abiding by their own bylaws or even coordinating with each other leaving the citizens out on a limb.

As per the SBCA bylaws, all the buildings that are ground-plus-three storeys or above, or more than 43-foot high, should be provided a set of standpipes system that should be installed in a vertical position to which fire hoses can be connected allowing manual application of water to the fire.

In 2014, then South deputy commissioner (DC) Mustafa Jamal Kazi and then Korangi DC Zubair Ahmed Channa issued a notification directing all the industrial units to implement the prescribed firefighting arrangements and associated protective measures under the rules of the Civil Defence Act 1951 within 15 days. Like many other rules and laws, no effort was apparently made to implement the notification.

'A tragic incident'

The newly appointed KMC Administrator, PPP’s Barrister Murtaza Wahab, visited the factory and Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) where the injured and dead had been brought.

Wahab, who also acts as the spokesperson for the Sindh government, termed the Mehran Town factory fire a tragic incident. He said Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had also taken notice of the blaze.

"We are saddened by the tragedy,” he remarked, adding that a complete investigation would be carried out into the blaze and all the requirements of justice would be met. “I offer my condolences to the families of the victims," he said, addressing a press conference on the tragic incident in Korangi.

He said the fire was reported to the fire brigade at 10:09am and the crew left at 10:10am. All measures were taken to extinguish the blaze as soon as possible and save lives but a major difficulty in the rescue operation was that there was probably no emergency exit, he remarked.

Wahab explained that 21 people were working on the first floor of the factory when the fire broke out. He added that police and fire brigade personnel were investigating the matter and their reports would be shared with the media.

Meanwhile, KMC Chief Fire Officer Mubeen Ahmed told the media that the fire broke out on the first floor of the factory. He said they used snorkels and cranes to reach the second floor. He also shared that the door opening to the roof of the factory had been sealed. Had the door been open, he said, it would have been easier for them to rescue labourers.

Chemical factory fire kills 17 labourers

Yesterday, at least 17 labourers had lost their lives in a fire that broke out at a chemical factory in Karachi on Friday.

According to Deputy Commissioner Korangi Samiullah Odho, 17 bodies had been pulled out from the factory premises.

"We have not received any word regarding any more people being trapped inside," he had said.