Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The State of Civic Bodies in Karachi and Lahore.

By Dr. Meher Zaidi.
The recent fire accidents in which 22 and 21 people were burnt alive in factories located in Karachi and Lahore respectively, speaks volumes of the neglect  and insensitivity on the part of public officials and civic agencies officials to the safety and life saving measures for the workers  and  workplace.

The first and foremost person responsible for ensuring safety in the workplace is the owner/manager of the place. He/she should ensure that all safety measures against fire, industrial accidents, building safety (including safe electric circuits/gas connections, piping, provision of alarms, water sprinkling arrangements, sprays, sand bags ,safe exits, fire drills etc) are in place with quality checks and audits periodically. Insensitivity and slackness speaks for the loathsome behavior of all concerned in this country. They emphasize on five time prayers to please God but the basic responsibility towards human beings and those also who are bread winners of the poor families speaks volumes of the real face of Pakistani muslims.
The building regulatory bodies are next in responsibility. The officers of these agencies are totally corrupt to the core. They take enormous bribes to pass maps and give liscences but never check  the construction and regulate the usage of the premises for the purpose it is built. These corrupt officials operate through touts who range from ordinary political workers to the level of engineers and even high government  officials. There is no building regulatory audit and no accountability of this audit by the civic agencies heads. In case of accidents like these and even when the bridge fell in Karachi ,due to faulty construction, the persons responsible find loopholes and bribe their way to freedom. 

The third group of people responsible but no less are the area elected representatives.These are the people who should ensure that factories and warehouses are not located in residential areas. That the workers are given due safety equipment and safe workplace environment and that the poor employees are given political voice no matter even if they are coming from another area. There should be complete ban on factories and ware houses in residential areas.The elected representatives who are presently colluding with factory owners and indirectly helping all corrupt regulatory officers should be made accountable to the public.

The sad state of affairs is that presently if the area residents even if they complain or try to raise voice against such factories or ware houses these corrupt people physically assault them or their families or involve them in some criminal cases with the collusion of area police. This cancerous web of treachery, deciept, dishonesty and corruption is so densly knit that ordinary citizens are scared and find it impoissible to report. They cannot even get the elected representatives on their side. All political parties should be ashamed and should take lesson from these two recent accidents and make it mandatory on all their representatives from lowest denominator to the top to ensure workplace safety as a first right of the citizen.
No plazas, factories, shopping centers be built without ensuring fire safety measures and good electrical audit.The fire and accident evacuation drills should be made mandatory in all such workplaces.These issues should be made part of all school and college curiculum so that there is general awareness andd sense of responsibilty of the masses.

The single most important factor in saving lives is good firefighting and evacuation agency.Presently both Karachi and Lahore firefighting agencies ar under staffed, ill equiped and out dated. These should be expanded massively.They should receive a very updated staff and equipment including vehicles.The Karachi section was bieng revamped following the Ashura bomb blasts but thanks to the infighting between the then interior minister of Sindh and the elected representatives of Karachi, this was put in waste basket.A much needed and most important department stands un-attended and helpless.
As the fire tenders find it difficult to negotiate and reach these densely populated areas ,the relocation after a survey and listing of all such factories and warehouses in Karachi and Lahore is now unavoidable. Both chief ministers should urgently start this exercise and finish this before the next elections with recommendations for action for the next governments.If the new local governments are in place this work will become easier, provided corrupt people are not re-elected and /or the poltical parties purge themselves of these corrupt and damaging elements.
With the new  industrial zones close to Karachi and Lahore, relocation plan should be made and instituted by the new governments on priority basis. The poor workers ‘ lives will not have been lost in vain if this is done. It is high time that we , the people of Pakistan shun our garbs of shamelessness and demand that workplace safety and safe residential areas be our right. We must fight against corruption at political and civic level.The political parties must expunge their corrupt members and change. Otherwise the masses will eventually rise and burn everything  down and who knows that maybe best.   

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