Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Karachi: 314 Deaths...Who’s responsible?

Barred windows, shoddy building standards and the flouting of basic safety regulations are being blamed for the worst fire tragedy in the country’s history that has so far claimed 314 lives in the country’s financial capital Karachi. The fire started on Tuesday evening, when as many as 500 people were working at Ali Enterprises, a garments factory that mostly exports its products to foreign countries. The fire raged for more than 15 hours before firefighters managed to bring it under control. For much of Wednesday, flames continued to smolder as rescue workers carried out body after body covered in white sheets. As TV screens flashed images of mourning and wailing family members looking for their loved ones, people watching the developments at home across the country were equally aggrieved. There seemed to be no end to the climbing tally, a 100, 200, 225… and many were left wondering where the official machinery was all this while, why was a fire allowed to wreak so much havoc and did those responsible for handling such emergencies only slept through the night as the blaze swallowed poor workers one by one? Several questions are being raised over the ability of the government to provide safety to the people, over the efficiency of the country’s firefighting units, about the efficacy of building control authorities, the level of implementation of laws that they can ensure, why illegal industrial units are allowed to operate in residential areas, why are such units beyond adherence to safety procedures and who is to blame for the deaths of so many people who were merely trying to earn their bread. Survivors told tales of frantically leaping from windows to escape the flames, as their colleagues were left trapped behind barred windows and locked doors. Muhammad Ilyas, speaking from hospital, said he was working with about 50 other men and women when suddenly a fireball came from the staircase. “I jumped from my seat as did others and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars,” he said. “That was how we managed to jump out of the windows down to the ground floor.” Relatives gathered nearby to wait for news of loved ones as morgues filled with bodies so badly burned that they may never be identified. “The owners were more concerned with safeguarding the garments in the factory than the workers,” said Muhammad Pervez, an employee, holding up a photograph of his cousin, another worker who was missing. “If there were no metal grilles on the windows a lot of people would have been saved. The factory was overflowing with garments and fabrics. Whoever complained was fired.” Reports said the Ali Enterprises building had four exits but three were routinely kept locked to counter security threats as well as to keep out criminals. Sources claimed that the factory owner had recently been asked to pay Rs 10 million as extortion, but he was only willing to pay a million rupees. However, SSP West Amir Farooqi told Pakistan Today that the police had not received any complaint from the owners of Ali Enterprises about any extortion calls although several factories in the area had been targeted by Karachi’s notorious Bhatta mafia. Some reports said a small fire had erupted on Tuesday afternoon, but the factory manager had asked the workers to put it out and locked the main gate to prevent them from leaving. However, the fire got out of hand and the workers got trapped inside. Experts on the other hand said that per the Electrical Rules 1973, it was mandatory for every factory administration to regularly get its electronic appliances and other such equipment verified from the department concerned. They said the administration even had to get permission from the government’s electrical department before they could implant electrical devices and generators in their factories. But the system was derailed in 2003 when an industrialist complained to then president Pervez Musharraf about electrical inspectors’ involvement in corruption. Musharraf then purportedly ordered authorities to bar the inspectors from performing their duty. Since the last 9 years, zero monitoring or checking of electrical devices has been exercised in industrial sectors of Punjab and Sindh, causing frequent tragedies. On Wednesday, the Sindh government tasked Justice (r) Zahid Qurban Alvi with probing into the incident and an inquiry officer will submit the findings within a week. A case No. 243/12 in SITE B Police Station under Sections 302, 307 and 306 of the PPC was registered against the owners of the garments factory – Shahid Bela, Arshad Bela and Ali Bela – and their names have been placed on the Exit Control List. None of the nominated accused have been arrested. However, Shahid Bela told a private TV channel on the phone that he was very sorry for the unfortunate incident and was ready to compensate the victims’ families as per the law. According to Sindh Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed, 95 bodies were received at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, 80 at Civil Hospital Karachi and 71 at Jinnah Hospital. While authorities name one reason or the other for the blaze, enraged labor leaders and trade unionists condemned the fire incidents in Karachi and Lahore and demanded a judicial inquiry into the tragedy. Following a protest demonstration, representatives of Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER) and National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan (NTUFP) slammed the rulers in a press conference at the Karachi Press Club. Mushtaq Ali Shan of the NTUFP demanded that all factories be registered under the Factory Act and all factories operating in residential areas should be moved to industrial areas. Karachi Commissioner Roshan Ali Skeikh said the investigation would be completed in three days, although he feared the toll rising further. Karachi Fire Chief Ehtesham Salim accepted that the force was inadequately equipped, but said it tried to do all it could. “It [factory] was packed like a box with little room left for ventilation. There were no emergency exits,” he said. “We found people who died of suffocation caused by the highly toxic smoke. They died first and their bodies were burned by the raging fire later.”

Pakistan fires kill 283, lax safety laws blamed

Fires swept through two clothing factories in Pakistan, leaving 283 people dead — many trapped behind locked doors and barred windows — highlighting the atrocious working conditions in a country where workplaces often lack basic safety equipment and owners bribe officials to ignore the violations. The twin blazes broke out Tuesday night at a garment factory in the southern port city of Karachi and a shoe manufacturer in the eastern city of Lahore. At least 258 people died in the fire in Karachi, where rescue workers were still searching Wednesday for bodies in the charred building. Another 25 perished in Lahore. The panicked workers in Karachi had only one way out since the factory’s owner had locked all the other exit doors in response to a recent theft, officials said. Many victims suffocated in the smoke-filled basement. ‘‘The owner of the factory should also be burned to death the way our dear ones have died in a miserable condition,’’ said Nizam-ud-Din, whose nephew was killed in the fire, one of the deadliest industrial accidents in Pakistani history. Police were searching for the factory’s managers and placed the owner on a list of people who are not allowed to leave the country, said Roshan Ali Sheikh, a top government official in Karachi. ‘‘It is a criminal act to lock the emergency exit doors, and we are trying to know who did it, and why,’’ Sheikh said. The fire started when a boiler exploded and the flames ignited chemicals that were stored in the factory, which manufactured jeans and other clothes for export. Between 300 and 400 workers were inside when the blaze erupted. Many of the deaths were caused by suffocation as people trapped in the basement were unable to escape when it filled with smoke, said Karachi fire chief Ehtisham-ud-Din. Those on the upper floors of the five-story building had to break through metal bars covering the windows so they could leap to safety. Dozens were injured doing so, including a 27-year-old pregnant woman. ‘‘When smoke spread all around, I jumped out the window in panic,’’ said Mohammad Shahzad, who broke an arm and a leg when he hit the ground. ‘‘I found myself in the hospital when I regained my senses.’’ Others burned to death as they tried to wriggle through the barred windows. ‘‘There were no safety measures taken in the building design,’’ said senior police official Amir Farooqi. ‘‘There was no emergency exit. These people were trapped.’’ Firefighters were still battling the blaze Wednesday. The death toll spiked as they entered previously inaccessible parts of the factory and found scores more bodies. The death toll stood at 258 by Wednesday evening, including a 10-year-old boy, said Sheikh. Another 31 people were injured. Rani Bibi said her two sons-in-law called Tuesday night to say they were trapped in the factory and asked her to tell their wives to take good care of the children. She hasn’t heard from them since, and couldn’t find their bodies in any of the hospitals in the city. ‘‘We don’t know where they are,’’ said Bibi, tears flowing down her face. ‘‘I hope to hear their voice. My two daughters’ lives are ruined.’’ The fire that swept through the four-story shoe factory in Lahore left 25 people dead, some from burns and others from suffocation, said senior police officer Multan Khan. The fire broke out as workers were trying to start a generator after electricity went out in the building. Sparks from the generator made contact with chemicals used to make shoes, igniting the blaze, which blocked the only exit. Firefighters had to break through the building’s brick walls to save people, officials said. Raza Rumi, an analyst at the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute, said the fire in Karachi was one of the deadliest industrial accidents in the country’s history. ‘‘It is reflective of the utter collapse of regulation and the enforcement of labor laws in the country,’’ he said. The problem has gotten worse in recent years as the federal government handed over factory oversight to provincial authorities, but local governments failed to develop legislation enforcing labor laws or basic safety regulations, Rumi said. Many Pakistani factories lack even basic safety equipment, such as alarms and sprinklers. In Punjab province, where Lahore is the capital, authorities abolished labor inspections altogether in 2003 to develop a more ‘‘business-friendly environment,’’ Rumi said. It was unclear whether anger over the fires in Karachi and Lahore will prompt provincial governments to focus on passing new labor regulations.

Punjab govt spent Rs70b on a single road

Imran Khan says Punjab government has spent Rs 70b on single road and ignored rest of the province. While addressing a ceremony in Islamabad, Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf chairman said that the PTI would form government in the next general elections. He said that the PTI is not dependent on its candidates; it doesn’t bother a worker is leaving the party, adding that the activist who likes to leave the party, he has freedom to do so. “Participation of more than 10 million workers in our party is tantamount to a revolution”, said the party chairman. He said that criticism is a good thing as it evaluates the importance of the party.

Obama condemns killing of U.S. ambassador to Libya

The United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, was killed in a rocket attack on the U.S. Consulate in the city of Benghazi on Tuesday, President Obama said Wednesday. "I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens," Obama said in a statement. "Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States," Obama said. The other three victims were American security staff, said a contractor working at the mission, who asked not to be named for security reasons.He said he saw all four bodies on the street Wednesday morning. An "angry crowd" marched on the consulate on Tuesday, angry about an online film considered offensive to Islam, Libya's Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif said Wednesday. The U.S. mission in Egypt was also attacked Tuesday in response to the film. Al-Sharif said that consulate security staff opened fire when they heard gunfire outside the mission. "This led to more anger and this is when the consulate was stormed," he said, suggesting that there were elements loyal to the regime of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi aiming to create chaos among the protesters. "Criminals managed to get in and they burned and ransacked the consulate," he said. The U.S. mission is very badly damaged, the contractor said. Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur said Stevens was "a friend of Libya, and we are shocked at the the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi." "I condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms. This is an attack on America, Libya and free people everywhere," Abushagur said on Twitter. The contractor in Benghazi said he could hear rocket-propelled grenade attacks Tuesday night. Libyans were also killed, the contractor said, saying the victims were shot on the spot. The bodies of the four Americans are now at Benghazi airport, the contractor said, citing the Libyan minister of foreign affairs and a top immigration official in Benghazi. Libya's governing party condemned the attack as a "criminal and cowardly act" and vowed to "track down the perpetrators and to maintain the country's security and the safety and security of its guests," Libya's official LANA news agency reported. Stevens was the American envoy to the Libyan rebel movement that overthrew Gadhafi last year, based in the rebel capital of Benghazi. A speaker of Arabic and French, he was among the first American diplomats sent to Libya in 2007 when the United States resumed ties with the Gadhafi regime. The last time an American ambassador was killed by terrorists was in 1979, when the envoy to Afghanistan, Adolph Dubs, was kidnapped and killed during an attempt to rescue him, according to State Department records. Protestors attack U.S. diplomatic compounds in Egypt, Libya


Relations with India had always been remained tense and unfriendly because we have considered India as the first and foremost enemy of Pakistan and it will miss no chance to destroy this country. It had never accepted the reality that Pakistan is a separate State curved out of India. Thus India was considered a hostile country and we were involved in propaganda against each other even on non issues. The main reason was the Kashmir dispute and India repudiated its old stand to hold a referendum ascertaining the will of the people of Kashmir that they want to remain in India or join Pakistan. To the Pakistani leaders and diplomats, Kashmir remained a core issue without its settlement, there could be no normalization of relations with India and even there will be no trade and no communication between the two peoples. It remained the policy of the past which continued for six decades and guided the relations between the two countries. On both sides, hot heads, fascists and fanatics put fuel to the fire by issuing statements against each other. Such elements were available in the Pakistani and Indian society or even in both the Governments guiding the state policies to pollute the atmosphere. When our relations become tense and almost unfriendly with the United States following the incident of Bin Laden and also the deliberate attack on Salala Check posts killing 24 soldiers, we reviewed our relations with India for strategic reasons and decided to normalize the relations to some extent keeping the Kashmir issue in the back burner, at least for the time being. In view of this policy, there were exchanges between leaders of Pakistan and India to normalize their relations and improve it to some extent providing some facilities and relief to their respective citizens. It included liberalize the visa regime, exempting journalists and businessmen from police reporting, issuing them multiple entry visa visiting more cities as in the past they were restricted to visit only three cities of India. The visa liberalization regime was signed and announced which had been welcomed by all right minded people and leaders of public opinion. However, the fanatics and fascist elements disliked the accord between the two countries to normalize relations and they wanted that the Kashmir issue should be settled first and later on India should be given concessions. Those elements are unaware about the radical change in the regional security situation US making India the non-NATO partner and also a strategic ally on the issue of Afghanistan assigning important role to India in Afghanistan to undermine the legitimate interests of Pakistan. In any case, the people of Sindh and Punjab, mainly Mohajirs and the Punjabis, will be the real beneficiaries of this liberalization of visa restrictions allowing them free movement between the two countries. Since Balochs had no interest in India, no relatives in that country, the visa regime issue is totally irrelevant for them. Balochs are least interested to visit India for any reason. Mere some people interested in tourism, they may try to visit India. Otherwise the real beneficiaries are the Punjabis and Mohajirs who have their relations on other side of the border. So that the wild charges of Rehman Malik against the Baloch people are agents of the Hindus are totally misplaced and ridiculous. It is surprising that similar views are shared by some State functionaries and they too are involved in wild propaganda against the Baloch people and their home grown movement for national rights within the framework of Pakistan. They had been agitating for the past six decades and it had not started on 2005, to say the least. Similar views were expressed on the floor of the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan in 1960s when Baloch stalwarts like Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, Sardar Ataullah Mengal and Nawab Marri represented Balochs in the National Assembly and Mir Ahmed Nawaz Bugti in the West Pakistan Assembly. They all said the same thing and made the same demand and there was no deviation from the past thus Mr. Rehman Malik’s stance in wrongly placed. It is nothing but to launch propaganda campaign against the political opponents.

215 perish in Karachi, Lahore factory fires

More than 200 people have perished in devastating fires that gutted factories in Pakistan's two largest cities, prompting calls for a review of work safety rules, officials said Wednesday. Around 194 people died at a garment factory in Karachi, in the worst inferno in decades to hit Pakistan's Arabian Sea port and biggest city, just hours after 21 died at a shoe factory in Lahore, close to the Indian border. Dozens of others were hurt in Karachi as they jumped out of windows in the four-storey building to escape the blaze that began Tuesday evening in a bid to save their lives. Shouting and sobbing relatives of trapped workers, desperate to get inside the factory, scuffled with police overnight as rescuers battled to work through the night, an AFP photographer said. "Three major hospitals in Karachi have so far received 194 bodies," said provincial health minister Saghir Ahmed. Karachi fire chief Ehtesham Salim said dozens of bodies were found in the factory's basement. "We found dozens of people dead in a large room of the factory's basement. It was totally burnt and parts of it were smouldering, which we put out before taking the bodies to hospitals." Abdus Salam, a doctor at Karachi's Civil Hospital, said bodies were badly burnt and that at least 65 other workers suffered broken bones after jumping out of windows to escape the flames. Salim called the factory dangerous, saying it had been flimsily built, lacked emergency exits and had developed cracks in the walls, which was also putting rescue workers at risk. "It was packed like a box with little room left for ventilation. There were no emergency exits," Salim said. "We found people who died of suffocation caused by the highly toxic smoke. They died first and then their bodies were burned by the raging fire," he said. According to workers, the factory produced underwear and plastic utensils. Salim said the disaster was Karachi's "biggest fire in terms of deaths in decades". In January 2009, 40 people were killed, more than half of them children, when a fire engulfed dozens of wooden homes in Karachi's impoverished Baldia neighbourhood. The garment trade is vital to Pakistan's shaky economy. According to central bank data, the textiles industry contributed 7.4 percent to Pakistan's GDP in 2011 and employed 38 percent of the manufacturing sector workforce. It accounted for 55.6 percent of total exports. Noman Ahmed, from the NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi, said few industries and businesses implement the law on safety and fire exits, finding it easy to get away with it because of lack of effective monitoring. "Most of our shopping centres and markets too have no safety mechanism, which the authorities should review seriously, otherwise it could cause graver tragedies in future," he said. Mohammad Saleem, 32, who broke a leg after jumping out of the second floor, said he and his colleagues were hard at work late Tuesday. "It was terrible, suddenly the entire floor filled with fire and smoke and the heat was so intense that we rushed towards the windows, broke its steel grille and glass and jumped out," Saleem told AFP. "It was extremely painful. I saw many people jumping out of windows and crying in pain for help," he said. Around 150 employees were working at the time in one of the factory's three round-the-clock shifts, Saleem said. Officials said the cause of the fire was unknown but Rauf Siddiqi, the industry minister for the southern province of Sindh of which Karachi is the capital, said the owner was under investigation for negligence. "We have ordered an inquiry into how the fire erupted and why proper emergency exits were not provided at the factory so that the workers could escape," Siddiqi said. In Lahore, flames also trapped dozens of workers in a shoe-making factory, killing 21 and injuring 14 others, local officials and medics said. Tariq Zaman, a government official, blamed the blaze on a faulty generator.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf heavyweights jumping ship

The Express Tribune
Two politicians in central Punjab decided to abandon the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) last week. Both had joined the PTI only last year after leaving the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). Gujranwala PTI President Waleed Akram Bhinder and his father, Shahid Akram Bhinder, on Tuesday joined the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Earlier, the Kasur PTI president Sardar Muhammad Tufail, a former MNA, and some other potential candidates had rejoined the PML-Q on Sunday. The elder Bhinder has been an MNA. His son, Waleed, had hosted Imran Khan whenever he visited the district. Shahid Bhinder told The Express Tribune he had committed a blunder in joining the PTI. He said Imran Khan had no plan to bring the change he promises. He said he preaches against corruption on one hand and joins his hands with the corrupt on the other side. He said, “Imran Khan asked the party to welcome Sheikh Rasheed before joining Rasheed’s public gathering in Rawalpindi. When pressure mounted from within the party, he disowned Rasheed.” He said he had been elected on a PML-N ticket before joining the PML-Q and was returning to the “parent party.” He said a PML-N candidate had won the NA-97 seat. He hoped he would again be the party’s candidate from the constituency in the next election. A PML-N handout on Tuesday said the two Bhinders had met with Nawaz Sharif and expressed trust in his leadership. A PML-Q handout on Sunday announced Sardar Muhammad Tufail from NA-138, Chaudhry Ilyas from PP-175 and Sardar Amjad Tufail from PP-176 in Kasur District would be their party’s candidates in the next elections. Tufail had joined the PTI along with Rana Imtiaz and Rana Sarfaraz, in Kasur. They are considered rivals of the Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan. Shafqat Mehmood, the PTI central information secretary, said “it was a good sign. The turncoats have started leaving the party.” He said the opportunists leaving the party could not hurt it. “The PTI values its 10 million registered voters, not particular politicians,” he said.

Fata to have its own bank

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Barrister Masood Kausar has hinted at setting up a bank for Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) so that tribal people working abroad can send their money to it easily. The money would be used for betterment of the people of the tribal areas, he told the launching ceremony of Economic Revitalisation Project for Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at Governor’s House here on Tuesday. The ceremony was also attended by Fata additional chief secretary, Fata law and order secretary, Fata parliamentarians, traders, officials of Smeda and tribal elders. The governor distributed cheque among those tribal traders, who suffered losses owing to terrorism and unfavorable situation in the area. He said that those cheques could not compensate the losses of traders, however, the gesture would encourage them to continue business activities. Mr Kausar said that tribal people were intelligent so they could start their businesses even with the help of a small amount of money. Highlighting the importance of Fata youth, the governor said that young people of tribal areas should not only be imparted proper education but should also be taught modern technical skills and advanced training in different fields. Mr Kausar said that peace was an essential element for progress of any business. Therefore, tribal elders and religious leaders should support the government for restoration of peace in Fata, he added. “We equally share the problems of Fata people that are not created by them but imposed on them by foreign hands,” he said. The governor said that Fata Development Authority was the backbone of Fata. “We should make it stronger to enable it not only to continue the ongoing development projects but to launch new schemes in Fata,” he said. Mr Kausar sought suggestions from businessmen for revival of Fata economy and progress and prosperity of tribal people. He thanked international community and those countries that supported Pakistan in the war against terrorism. The governor said that only those businessmen, who invested money in their businesses for development of Fata instead of utilising it for personal use, should be encouraged to get loans. He said that one day the entire world would be proud of tribal people.