The saddest thing about the following ordeal is that these facts will not come as a surprise to my unfortunate fellow countrymen.
On the 9th of February, 2015, at around 4:55 pm I discovered a gas leak in the main supply pipe of my house in DHA, Lahore. At 5 pm I called the emergency help line of SNGPL (Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited) and my complaint was officially registered at 5:05 pm. I was asked to secure the spot of leak with a piece of cloth and be extremely cautious that no one lights a match or lighter in the surroundings of the leak, till the response team arrives. I tied a cloth which reduced the pressure of the leak and asked my father’s driver to stand near the pipe and keep watch.
At 6:30 pm I asked my father to call the emergency helpline and introduce himself, since my complaint as an ordinary citizen had failed to induce a response. So my father called the emergency helpline, re-registered the complaint and mentioned that he was a Member of the National Assembly, hoping that this may activate the otherwise sleeping emergency response team. In a way it was heartening to discover that SNGPL has shunned the VIP culture completely, since it treated a complaint from an MNA as callously as it treated the complaint from an ordinary citizen and no personnel of the department contacted us or visited the site.
At 7:43 pm I called the emergency helpline again and tried to explain to the person on the other end how dangerous the situation was. The person I was talking to was well aware of the perils of a gas leak and knew how this could turn into an unfortunate accident any second. For the third time I was promised that personnel from the department would contact me and visit the site as soon as possible. I was again asked to take precautions.
Frustrated by the negligence, callousness and complete disregard for public safety, on part of the department, my father called the helpline yet again at 8:44 pm. This time he expressed some anger and asked for the contact number of any responsible officer. The person attending the call could not oblige since he did not know the name or number for any responsible officer. This was not a surprise to me though, as judging by their ridiculous laxity it was obvious there weren’t many responsible officers in the department. The person receiving the call however yet again assured my father that he is completely aware of how dangerous the situation is and how the department values its customers and public safety.
It is 11 pm now when I write this. Almost six hours have passed. The department of SNGPL has failed to respond to an emergency within six hours of being intimated thereof. The driver still stands guard by the main pipe and I have further secured the leak with wheat (aata). Thanks to this citizen’s meticulous precautions, the gas leak has not transformed into an unfortunate accident, not yet. A department that can delay an emergency response for six long hours, can do it for another six or even twelve, so I don’t know the fate of this leak, this house and this writer. Who knows these words may be this writer’s very last, thanks to the all competent and noble SNGPL.