Orange Line costing public dearly

| Victim families demand compensation as ‘Punjab Speed’ claims over 50 lives

LAHORE - Families of victims are calling for compensation as dozens of people, mostly young workers, have been killed during the construction of the multi-billion dollar Orange Line Metro Train project in Lahore.

So far, more than 50 people have died in road and other accidents around the construction sites since September, 2015. Several workers died in accidents at the makeshifts and construction sites.

But the victims are rarely compensated.

Muhammad Shareef, father of six, was among seven workers burnt alive when huge fire erupted in the site office of a construction company near Mahmood Booti interchange on Wednesday. He had to work at the site for at least 12 hours to earn a few hundred rupees per day, his colleagues said.

Shareef’s family members reached the city mortuary in Mayo Hospital yesterday morning to collect his charred body. “He was father of six daughters. We are worried. Who will take care of his children and who will feed them?” a close relative of the deceased told reporters. “We strongly request [the Punjab] chief minister to announce compensation for the poor family.”

Seven workers were killed and several others sustained burns when blaze broke in the site office of the Habib Construction Company in Manawan area Wednesday afternoon. At least nine fire victims were admitted to a hospital. Three of them were stated to be in critical condition. All seven bodies were removed to the morgue. Police were yet to hand over the bodies to their families.

One of the Wednesday’s fire victims complained that the injured were not being provided proper medical care. He told The Nation that he was more worried about his family rather than his wounds. “Doctors say I need complete bed rest for months. Who will feed my children for months?” questioned the 35-year-old injured man with sobbing eyes.

Other labourers who survived the fire incident called on the provincial government to mete out justice. They also demanded the government to award financial compensation to relatives of those killed.

The deaths of a number of labourers in recent years expose the working conditions and lack of safety measures. The low-wage workers have to stay in shabby buildings with no proper food.

At least seven labourers working on the Orange Line train project had lost their lives when the wall of an under-construction godown collapsed on their sleeping tents near Quaid-e-Azam Interchange on the Ring Road in May. Another 15 labourers were also injured in the accident.

In June last year, a 22-year-old man died in a road accident when a speeding dumper hit him near the Orange Line Metro Track in the Manawan area.

In July, two workers of metro railway line had died when the roof of a dilapidated house collapsed on them. A Rescue 1122 spokesman had stated that Orange Line Metro Train workers were asleep in a rented building on Wahdat Road when the roof collapsed on them.

During the same month, at least four people died and three were wounded as a dumper truck bumped into a motorcycle-rickshaw in Daroghawala area. According to rescue sources, the accident occurred near the ongoing construction work of Orange Line Metro Train project.

Two labourers engaged in construction work on the project in Nawab Town area had perished on January 17 after the crane they were operating touched high-voltage live wires. On January 25, an aged man had died after being hit by a speeding crane deployed along the route of the project. A traffic warden and a schoolgirl were also among those died in connection with the project.

Over one dozen people died in road accidents involving dumper trucks in the provincial metropolis during the last couple of months. Following fatal accidents, the provincial police launched a campaign to educate truck drivers and seize unfit vehicles.

A senior government official yesterday claimed that the metro's accident rate was low compared with similar construction projects around the world. However, frequent accidents on metro sites have caused concerns among local population. Also, the accidents at metro sites have given rise to fears that safety standards are being compromised in the rush to build the project. A new term, ‘Punjab Speed’, has been introduced by official media campaigners to complete the project in time.

Last year, the Lahore High Court had directed the government to submit details of measures taken to ensure safety of labourers working on the Orange Line Metro Train project. Azhar Siddique advocate stated that 20 labourers had died so far at metro train construction sites around the city.

“No precautionary measures have been taken by the government, the Punjab Mass Transit Authority, the Lahore Development Authority, the Environment Protection Authority or the contractors to ensure the safety of workers.”

According to the Habib Construction Company, the metro train will provide an easy mode of transportation and will transport around 250,000 individuals on daily basis. The Lahore Orange Line Metro Train is a 27.1 km long project that will help the city of Lahore reduce congestion caused by buses and cars and will be a rapid mode of transportation with different stations spread around the city.

Deaths during the construction of mega projects are not rare in the South Asian region.

Over 100 workers had died during the construction of the metro railway in the Indian capital, Delhi, in 2010. But families of the deceased workers had received something between 150,000 and 900,00 rupees ($3,000 to $20,000) in compensation.