Islamabad - Lives of thousands of people working and living in the capital city’s high-rise buildings are at risk due to the failure of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to effectively implement fire safety regulations.

In a recent survey of 600 buildings by the CDA, majority of them were found to be not complying with the safety laws. Schools, hospitals, offices, public and private properties have been categorized keeping in view the structure and stories. According to the authorities, lack of interest on part of the owners of the buildings is the main irritant in implementing the fire safety regulations.

According to a senior official at the CDA’s emergency and disaster management directorate, less than 20 percent of the capital’s high-rise buildings comply with fire safety laws.

He told The Nation that the survey found that fire extinguishers and other fire safety tools had either not been installed by the owners or are completely absent in the buildings. “In other words, the situation has not changed since 2010. Lives of thousands of people are at risk,” he added.

According to a letter seen by The Nation, the CDA, in 2013, had directed all the concerned officials sending in transfer cases to ask the owners to obtain fire prevention, protection of life safety no-objection certificate (NOC) before finalizing any transfer of plots. However, properties continue to be transferred without following the procedure.

The emergency and disaster management cell had also recommended in 2013 that approvals issued without the fire prevention NOC should be withdrawn. It also said that standard guidelines be issued to all the owners/occupants in order to ask them to furnish the fire protection, prevention and life safety-2010 NOC before issuance of the completion certificate and the building plans.

However, the authorities at the land and estate directorate did not follow the directions in letter and spirit in the two years. A public information campaign in 2013 by the CDA to convince the owners of the buildings has had little impact on the behaviour of the owners.

The ‘CDA Building Standards for Fire Prevention and Life Safety 2010’ and ‘The Islamabad Fire Prevention and Life Safety Regulations 2010’ were designed to reduce fire-related hazards in the city. The regulations gave the CDA power to survey both public and private buildings to ensure that adequate fire precautionary measures like emergency exits, emergency exit signs, emergency lights, smoke venting system, fire extinguishers, underground water tanks, water pumps and hose reels are in place. Under the safety regulations, the CDA has the powers to empty or seal any building and impose fines up to Rs 0.5 million if it finds any violation. But the civic body has hardly taken action against violators except serving notices.

According to sources at the CDA, Al-Mustafa Tower in sector F-10 which is housing around 400 families received warning letter after its emergency exits were found blocked and lifts were out of order. Shifa International Hospital, which has the facility to entertain around 1,000 patients at a time, was served two notices because it has no dedicated water tank for fire pumps. Siddique Steel Mills I-9, D-Watson, Super Market, Munchies, Super Market, Ismail Flour Mills, I-9, Embassy Lodges and Best Western hotels were all issued show cause notices after they failed to address the deficiencies. The sources said that around 70-80 owners of the buildings were issued warning letters and notices ordering them to comply with the fire prevention regulations but it did not happen. Furthermore, the disaster management cell had recommended fines for Savor Foods, Tehzeeb Bakers and Envoy Continental Hotel for their failure to comply with the regulations but not followed up.