By late Wednesday night rescue workers had recovered 18 bodies and more than 70 injured people from the collapsed building of a four-storey factory located in Sunder Industrial Estate on Lahore’s outskirts. The death toll could be much higher considering that 250 people worked in the polythene bags-making factory, which also housed several families. Since it happened in the provincial capital, rescue operations did not take long to start. As rescue 1122 teams from Lahore rushed to the scene, others from nearby districts of Kasur, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala and Nankana Sahib as well as Army personnel joined the effort along with ambulances, cutter devices and other equipment. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif too visited the place to see what more could be done to save people trapped in the wreckage.
Notably, the Sunder Industrial Estate itself was inaugurated about eight years ago. The building that came down therefore could not be an old structure. It will take time for the relevant authorities to determine what exactly caused the terrible tragedy. Those on the scene had their own versions to give. Some claimed that the structure had developed cracks in the recent earthquake, and that the factory owner was informed of the impending danger but he did not pay attention. The owner, who sadly lost his own life along with others, is not there to explain whether or not that is true. What is known for a fact, however, is that construction was in progress to add a new floor to the building. Most likely that was being done without proper professional advice regarding additional construction. It is not uncommon for people to put load on buildings not provided for by original design. This though should not have happened in a place that boasts to be “an island of facilitation in the sea of harassment” for industrialists, promising to handle issues and problems through ‘One Window’ operation.
The tragedy is an appalling reminder of the laxity with which the Punjab government deals with the building safety issues. There has been much talk for a while about a draft law for the setting up of a Punjab Building Control Authority, like the one in Sindh, which could take over, from various district development authorities, the regulatory responsibility for construction activity and violation checks. Also, as per the proposal described by the provincial local government secretary a while ago, in order to ensure enforcement an independent police force was to be created. Hired experts as well as serving officers with requisite technical expertise were to be inducted to handle the work in a professional manner. More than a year later the draft law remains in draft form. It is regrettable, indeed, that the Punjab government, which prides itself on various construction projects, should be so negligent of an issue that can result in preventable loss of life. The Sunder Estate tragedy should serve as a wake-up call, and an effective system must be put in place to ensure the safety of existing buildings as well as new ones.