Editorial : Empress Market fire - Wednesday 30th March 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/30/empress-market-fire.html

MANY valid questions regarding the nature of the fire that ravaged a section of Karachi’s iconic Empress Market remain. Though city government officials had said the fire, which broke out early Sunday, might have been caused by a short circuit, shopkeepers believe that it was not accidental. The fact that the state has registered an arson attack case on Monday strengthens suspicions that foul play was at work. Dozens of shops were destroyed while a section of the market’s roof has also been gutted. The Empress Market fire is the latest in a series of suspicious blazes that have been occurring in Karachi with some regularity. A fire had broken out at the revenue record office in 2009 while two fire incidents occurred at the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation building in 2007. There are claims that criminal elements may be responsible for the blaze, as the shopkeepers had reportedly refused extortion demands. Only a thorough probe will uncover whether or not the fire was accidental. Meanwhile, the authorities must ensure the affected traders are compensated so that they can restart their businesses.
The fire also highlights the sustained neglect Empress Market has suffered, despite being a protected heritage site. The market — which is over a century old — sits in Saddar, one of the metropolis’s most polluted areas with nightmarish traffic and encroachments galore. The government needs to do much more to protect this vital part of Karachi’s heritage from further decay. This, as well as the city’s other historical monuments, must be preserved before they are forever lost to the vagaries of nature as well as the carelessness and avarice of man. One feels that with proper traffic management and conservation efforts involving experts and citizens who care, the city’s colonial jewels can be salvaged and polished for future generations. The Empress should be restored to her past, regal glory.

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