State Responsibility – Bahawalpur Oil Tank Explosion

State Responsibility – Bahawalpur Oil Tank Explosion

The latest death toll from Bahawalpur oil tanker fire is around 200, with reports of nearly the same number of people injured in the incident.

Regional Police Chief Raja Riffat reported, “When the tanker turned over the residents of the nearby village of Ramzapur Joya, people rushed to the site with buckets and other containers. A large number of people on motorcycles also came and started collecting the spilling fuel.” It is also reported that a number of people on the highway attempted to take this opportunity to collect the free fuel from the overturned oil tanker.

The grief is overwhelming and pouring from all parts of the world. The authorities in Pakistan, including the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Chief Minister of Punjab, and Chief of Army Staff, not only expressed their grief but also committed to doing their best to provide medical facilities to the injured. A report will be compiled about this incident.

A number of questions, however, remain unanswered. The responsibility of this incident must be fixed. In my humble opinion, the government of the day cannot escape its obligation and duty. The turning over of a tank, while negotiating a dangerous turn can be classified as an accident and negligence of the driver can be investigated, but neither the failure to keep the crowd away from spilling petrol nor the crowd’s attempt to benefit from the leaking petrol can be ignored.

The above two factors indicate the government’s comprehensive failure, causing loss of lives and livelihoods. There are many cogent reasons for this tragedy, namely poverty, lack of formal and moral education, failure of government priorities, and lack of warning system in remote local areas, etc.

An education, which is categorised as a basic and fundamental human right, only attracts less than 3% of GDP of Pakistan. A young child with knowledge of the volatile and inflammable nature of fuel will never go close to petrol. It, therefore, begs a question: how did families from nearby villages rush in to obtain the fuel?

One report is that the local mosque informed these people about the gushing 40,000-liter petrol via loudspeaker, tempting them to get their share. One cannot deny that this occurrence has been caused because of the lack of education – a fundamental right and a basic duty of government. Any report must investigate the level of education of those who suffered in this terrible accident and must fix the responsibility upon those who have failed to ensure the delivery of this basic right.

Poverty is the mother of all evils; it fails an individual on a number of levels. A very liberal estimate according to the report indicates that the petrol that people rushed to collect, will put the gathered petrol quantity to be 15-20 litres of petrol, i.e. between PKR 1000-1500 only. A human life was thrown into all kinds of danger to gain such limited financial benefit. Was it done merely due to greed? Or has the government genuinely failed to provide basic provisions of life to people living around the area of the accident?

If people have been forced to meet their everyday expenses from this accident, the liability seems to fall on the shoulders of the sitting government. The lavish lifestyle and state machinery that use vehicles worth billions of rupees, need to be questioned. Where the state spends billions in unaccountable funds in the name of protocol to all political and military leadership, why can the government not provide basic facilities to protect people when accidents happen? What are the contingency plans for such emergencies? Has South Punjab been treated fairly?

Finally, there is a need to investigate the investment claims made by the government of Punjab, the level of medical support around the area, logistics, emergency response systems, and road safety information.

Based on the available reports and conclusive evidence, there may lie a claim against the government for the failure of well-established duty of care.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which he might be associated.

Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah

Author: Syed Zulfiqar Ali Shah

The writer is a barrister from Balochistan, having pursued LL.B (London), LLM in International Law from City University, MA in Diplomatic Studies from University of Westminster, and Bar Vocational Course from ICSL.