Does the agency have a purpose?
“Don’t worry, Rescue 1122 is here, they will save us,” were reported as the last words of one Lahore Development Authority (LDA) stenographer before he jumped to his death from the seventh floor of the LDA head office at the LDA Plaza. At least 22 people were killed in the harrowing fire that erupted at the LDA headquarters which engulfed six floors of the 11-storey building in Lahore’s business centre. Disturbing as the loss of life and fear amongst relatives may be, that the fire erupted and took two army helicopters and over 24 hours to control, sends shivers down the spine of anyone located in a high-rise in the city of Lahore. When the watchdog over building standards and fire safety in Lahore itself does not fulfill safety standards, God forbid what would be the situation in other high rises!
There is no irony to be derived when the headquarters of the organization whose website claims that “it strives to be an accountable principal planning and development vehicle of the Lahore Metropolis” is the one to suffer Lahore’s worst high-rise fire. When another huge fire erupted in a plaza at the Shah Alam Market on February 8, 2011, a promise was made to review fire safety standards across the city. On the ground, nothing changed, with the DCO Lahore during the time ‘rewarded’ with the post of LDA Director General. Disturbing rumours have emerged that the fire was an “inside job,” in which precious records was deliberately set on fire after a NAB inquiry was started into the Metro Bus project. The LDA has quickly moved to deny the allegations and stated that the Metro Bus files “were safe in the Tepa office on Lytton Road, while copies were available with Nespak.” What is clear however is that the law directorate record, containing details of all legal cases in which the LDA was involved, has been lost and the LDA officials have called it “irreplaceable.” Moreover, the record of several inquiries into allegations of corruption by LDA officers worth Rs1.5 trillion now stands burnt.
From the failure to implement its own rules on its headquarters to the loss of important records, the LDA plaza tragedy should not be taken as “just another freak fire.” A full, comprehensive investigation is required into not only the fire, but the shoddy job being done by the LDA itself. One of its basic functions of the regulatory body is to implement fire safety rules. None appear to be followed by the organization itself. This death trap was created by the LDA itself – the institution supposed to lay down the law for everyone else in the city. One cannot but ask: is the LDA serving any purpose at all?