LAHORE: Lahore High Court Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah expressed dismay over the government for not changing the law of just Rs500 punishment to the oil tankers carelessly carrying ‘inflammable material’ on roads.

The chief justice gave these remarks while hearing petition of public interest seeking action against responsible of Ahmadpur East oil tanker incident which claimed lives of 190 people and left the same number of people as severely injured.

The CJ expressed wonder that why the FIR was not registered against the private oil company and the contractor who took the contractors on the road despite that the licence of the oil tanker had already expired.

Surprisingly, the Chief Justice him read the relevant law of Petroleum Act 1934 which provides only Rs 500 punishment to the owners of the vehicles who were found guilty of supplying petroleum without valid license and Rs 2000 for committing the same offence again.

The CJ directed the government to review the law and provide strict punishment to the violators of law.

Helms Foundation, an NGO, moved the petition through Advocate Safdar Shaheen Pirzada and prayed the court to fix responsibility of all departments concerned who badly failed to perform their duties which resulted into loss of previous lives in the incident of Ahmadpur East.

During the proceedings, the National Highway and Motorway Police officials confessed before the court that police could not reach the spot due to change in shift. They said Motorway police did not have training to deal with such kind of incidents. The incident took place at 5am while police reached at 7am on the spot despite that there were three police stations around the place of occurrence.

Explosives department’s official told the court that the licence of the oil tanker had expired last year. He said checking of oil tanker’s standard was the responsibility of Explosives department while fitness certificate is issued by Motor Vehicle Authority. The official said that Shell company and its contractor had been served legal notice for not renewing licence of the oil tanker.

As the judge asked the Explosives department that why action was not taken against the responsible of the incident, he replied that under the law, only Rs 500 penalty could be imposed over the violators. If FIR was registered against the local oil company then its supply could be stopped, the official stated. The reply of the official irked the Chief Justice who asked him that who had stopped them to enforce the law.

“It was responsibility of the private company to compensate the victims of oil tankers, under what law, the public money was being distributed among them,” the Chief Justice remarked.

He further remarked “Such a low fine of Rs 500! How such incidents could be controlled if there is no strict punishment? Is the federal government in slumber?” The CJ also observed that “why the law was not amended?”

The Chief Justice observed that why not the company should be declared blacklisted over committing negligence. An Ogra director told the court that Rs10 million fine had been imposed on the company.  He said Ogra had asked the company to compensate Rs 1 million to every person’s family who lost his life while Rs 500,000 to every injured and had given three days time to it to pay this compensation.

He said oil company and contractor did not comply with the check list before filling of the oil tanker which subsequently caused the incident.  Punjab Health Department also submitted report in the court stating that ‘Burn units were existing in public hospitals.

The official of the health department said that 34 Burn units in Jinnah Hospital, 72 in Nishter Hospital of Multan, 55 in Allied Hospital, Faisalabad, 10 in Holy Hospital of  Rawalpindi, 8 burn units in Mayo Hospital and 10 beds  for such patients at Gujrat Hospital. The temperature of the environment rose to 900 Celsius where the incident took place which caused serious damage while 90 per cent body of the victims got damaged to the fire, he said.

The official said that life could be saved if less then 40 or 50 percent body of a victim is burnt.

Chief Justice Shah directed the Shell’s counsel to apprise the court on next date about steps taken, if any, by the company for the compensation of the victims as it earned billions of rupees out of business. The Chief Justice adjourned the hearing for a week and sought reports from all the respondent departments.