Perhaps more so than other countries, the prospect of death is a permanent notion in the minds of citizens. Border conflicts, militancy, sectarianism, and crime have surely taken their toll, and all are condemnable, yet condemnation needs to take a ferocious tinge when death come pure apathy, gross ineptness, lethargy and petty greed.
The January 11 traffic accident between an oil tanker and a passenger bus near Karachi left 62 dead and scores more wounded. It was a crash so horrific that the passengers’ bodies were unrecognizable, stuck together, burnt to a crisp – DNA testing was needed to tell them apart. Now the inquiry into the matter has presented its investigation results, and the culprits must be held liable.
In a pattern that is becoming predictable, not one, but several departments had neglected their duty, all of which contributed to the crash. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and the Malir District Corporation, both of who are tasked with road maintenance had let the road reach “dilapidated condition having deep pits and bumpy surface which is not only dangerous for human lives but also causes serious damage to the vehicles plying thereon”, despite having been asked several times in 2014 to repair the relevant road. The fire brigade reached the crash site two hours after the incident, when the inferno had burnt itself out. Perhaps the worst of all are the actions of the transport company owners; they had installed extra seats in the bus, above the statutory limit, blocking the aisle and preventing escape. Furthermore the windows were made of cheap unbreakable plastic rather than breakable glass and the windows were reinforced with bars. For a few extra rupees per trip, the owners turned the bus into a burning prison. Sharing the blame is the Pakistan Transport Authority, who let the bus ply its trade without a proper licence since 2006, failing to inspect it for 9 years.
Preventing the death of 62 people, 6 children included, required no extra effort or expense, it was not an act of nature neither was it an action of violent enemies; only if the government officials had done the job they are paid to do, the one they have sworn to do. The government’s steps must not follow the usual superficial pattern; suspending a few officers and transferring some more. The failure of the government is so severe that it is beyond the realm of institutional punishment; it needs criminal punishment. Public authorities will never work properly if their lapses, even fatal ones, mean a few slaps on the wrist; they need to be held criminally liable of gross negligence, perhaps even manslaughter. Unless the government builds up the culture of tort claims and reforms the state prosecution, people will keep burning to death.