- Fire safety equipment was missing from Ali Towers
- Civil Defence Department inquiry found building ‘insecure against fire incidents’
- Ali Towers spokesman denies building was set on fire to cover up any official records
LAHORE: Equipment and procedures needed to deal with fire emergencies were missing from Ali Towers, a shopping mall located on MM Alam Road in which a fire broke out on Saturday in which one person was killed while eight others were injured.
An Aug 28 notice issued by the Civil Defence Department (CDD) regarding an inquiry into safety standards at Ali Tower stated that the building was not adequately secure against fire incidents as it lacked a fire control room with equipment, sensors, extinguishers, and standard operating procedures for evacuation in the event of a fire.
The CDD had given the building’s administration 15 days ─ until Sept 12 ─ to equip itself sufficiently, cautioning that they could face jail time or fines if action was not taken by the deadline.
Additionally, a survey report compiled by the CDD and shared with the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) reveals that more than 125 buildings in the provincial capital lack fire safety systems and equipment, including extinguishers, alarms and emergency exits.
The report claims that the lack of proper fire defence systems in more than 100 buildings poses a medium to low risk to the lives of citizens.
ALI TOWER SPOKESMAN CALLS ALLEGATIONS ‘BASELESS:’
Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan had also reached the site of the incident and said that no casualties were confirmed by the rescue personnel. “Every single person was rescued from the building,” the provincial information minister said while briefing the media.
“The plaza is owned by former Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif’s son-in-law, Imran Ali Yousaf. Investigations are underway on the cause of the fire,” Chohan added.
In response to allegations claiming that the fire appears as a deliberate attempt to destroy the records of Imran’s business agreement with the notorious Saaf Paani Company, a spokesman for the Ali Group today rejected Chohan’s allegations, saying: “Ali Tower did not contain any government offices and the allegation that the building was set on fire to cover up any official records is baseless.”
“All the people trapped in the building were taken out through the emergency exits in the building,” he said. The spokesperson clarified that the man who jumped out of the building was advised not to do so and only did it because he could not understand what was being said to him.
Ali Towers was also not included in the list of 110 buildings (with four storeys or more) inspected by a fire safety commission in 2014.
“The commission comprising officials of the Rescue 1122, the LDA and other departments had been constituted by the Lahore High Court after it took suo motu notice of the tragic fire incident at the LDA plaza situated on Egerton road,” an LDA official said on Saturday.
He said though the commission had inspected Ali Tower and identified some flaws there, its members didn’t include or mention it in the list of the visited buildings.
According to the details, the fire erupted at a restaurant in the basement of Ali Towers, trapping at least 50 people in stores and residential apartments on different floors.
As many as three people sustained injuries after jumping off from the building in a bid to escape the fire. One of them, identified as Akram, succumbed to his injuries.
The fire brigade personnel doused off the blaze after almost an hour-long efforts, rescue sources said. They added that seven fire tenders took part in the operation and the personnel entered the affected building through an adjacent building.
‘SAAF PANI’ CONTROVERSY:
Like the former Punjab CM and his son Hamza Shehbaz, Imran is also in the dock in the Saaf Paani case. The National Accountancy Bureau had grilled Imran for renting out an office to the Saaf Pani Company in November at an annual rent of over Rs28 million, which the anti-graft watchdog believed was exorbitant as compared to the market rate.
Imran is also accused of having Rs120m deposited to his bank account from the account of the Punjab Power Development Company (PPDC). Besides, an investigation against him is also underway for possessing assets beyond known sources of income.
In December 2017, the NAB had launched a thorough probe into the affairs of 56 public sector companies formed by the Shehbaz administration in Punjab for their alleged involvement in corruption. The companies are accused of certain irregularities, recruitment in violation of procurement rules and merit, nepotism, and non-completion of various projects in time.
There has been a lack of performance and regular audit and non-transparent procedure of tendering in these companies which were under direct supervision of CM Shehbaz.