Factory fires: Disasters waiting to happen


Rawalpindi district government might just be waiting for an incident in the likes of the Lahore and Karachi factory fires, which had claimed hundreds of lives, to justify action against illegal factories operating in residential areas, setting aside all rules and regulations.
The inaction by departments concerned, against illegal business activities, is contrary to tall claims by the Punjab Government regarding the assurance of good governance, as unsafe and health-hazardous trade work continues unchecked in residential areas.
Under the Punjab Local Government Ordinance, no business activities can be carried out in housing colonies and the Town Municipal Administration (TMA) Officer is responsible for ensuring a residential atmosphere for citizens.
According to a survey, there are around 130 illegal factories operative in various residential areas of the city, out of which 40 are located in Khyaban-e-Sir Syed, Bagh Sardaran, old Baddar and Bangash colonies (Khyaban-e-Iqbal).
Khyaban-e-Sir Syed, where illegal businesses, including the recycling of plastic for shoe making, leather refining and scrap-trade on a large scale has turned into a volcano that may trigger anytime and cause loss of human lives, if immediate action is not taken against them.
Residents of Khyaban-e-Iqbal (old Baddar and Bangash colonies) told APP that illegal commercial activities in the area had made their lives difficult as they had to face the unpleasant smell of chemicals used in plastic recycling and leather refining, coupled with a lot of noise pollution, besides threat of fire incidents.
In a written complaint to the Punjab chief minister and departments concerned, residents have expressed fear over an outbreak of asthma and occurrences of a fire incident similar to the ones in Lahore and Karachi. Small fires are almost a regular feature, as there is no fire fighting system or emergency exit, they added.
Malik Asif Akbar, former naib nazim of the area, alleged that residential areas were being used for commercial purposes in connivance with the TMA staff as no one could dare start a business without the authority’s backing.
He further alleged that bribes were given to officials by the owners of these illegal factories on a regular basis to run their business without any checks or fear. He said that main gates of such factories always remained closed to hide their illegal operations. Chemicals were stored in great quantity in these premises without taking safety measures, he added.
He said that there was no adequate fire fighting arrangement in the premises of these factories, which were operating without registration at any government institution like the Provincial Labour Department, Civil Defence Department or Workers Welfare Board. Thus no inspection of these factories had ever been carried out by any relevant government agency.
Javed and Haider, residents of a house with a bakery, shoe factories and scrap go-downs at the back, complained that the smoke emitted from the burning of scrap material, bakery items and the recycling of plastic for shoe making entered their houses from windows of their rear side rooms, due to which their children were developing asthma and sore eyes.
A former Town Member of Rawalpindi Town Council, Shahida Shabir, requested the District Coordination Officer (DCO) to take immediate notice of the issue and clear residential areas of ‘lethal businesses’, which had become a hub for various kinds of commercial activities.
She said that health-hazardous activities had polluted the environment and made lives of inhabitants in their surrounding areas miserable.
She feared a break out of lethal diseases due to unhealthy activities, which were going on day and night there. The number of asthma patients was increasing in the colony, she added.
When contacted, no official of the Town Municipal Administration was available to comment on the issue. However, an official on conditions of anonymity admitted to the mushrooming growth of illegal factories in housing colonies.
He said that the DCO had directed departments concerned to shift factories from residential areas to the industrial zone and ensure appropriate safety measures and installation of fire fighting gadgets in all industrial units.