A tragedy and a crackdown


  • Colours of China
  • Monday, 04 Dec 2017

NINETEEN lives were lost in an evening fire at a cheap and cramped apartment building on the outskirts of Beijing.

All of them, aged between one and 60, including eight children, died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

It was reported that the fire, which also left eight others injured, broke out from the newly installed refrigeration facility built by unqualified workers.

Police said an electrical fault had ignited flammable materials on a wall.

The 6.20pm fire has raised alarm about the low-quality lifestyle of migrant workers, who helped to build this city into a world-class metropolis.

The high cost of living and rental in the capital city have forced this low-income marginal community, most of whom are in construction, factories, security, cleaning and delivery services, to stay in the outskirts.

They can only afford a small space.

This has prompted money-minded leaseholders to illegally turn their properties into multi-functional buildings with a mix of residential, commercial and industrial units.

Similar was just like Jufuyuan Apartment, where the fire broke out on Nov 18, which housed a few eateries, common bathrooms, workshops, warehouses and others.

Located in Xihongmen township of the Southern Daxing district about 25km from the city centre, the two-and-a-half-storey apartment – the size of about three-quarters of a football field – was also illegally altered into over 300 rooms for more than 400 tenants.

After the fire, the authorities responded swiftly by launching a 40-day campaign against unsafe properties, including overcrowded apartments with illegal structures and those unlawfully used for residential and industrial purposes.

Since the campaign began on Nov 20, the authorities have sealed off such buildings across Beijing, starting with Daxing district, and forcefully evicted the tenants while cutting the water and power supplies of “problem properties”.

These were the people from the rural villages who came with a dream of making a fortune to change the livelihoods of their families back home.

They earn an average of 3,500 yuan (RM2,190) per month in this mega-city, where rental for a small room big enough for a bed, a wardrobe and a table easily costs 600 yuan (RM375).

The soaring rent has resulted in them cramming into the shelters with those who share the same dream and destiny.

These evictions were like adding salt to their wounds. Many of them were caught off guard. They were just given a few days to pack and find a place to stay.

Some had their rental returned and some left without a single cent of compensation.

Netizens have condemned the authorities for being too harsh on the tenants, although the main concern was their safety.

They recalled an incident six years ago in the same district where a fire claimed 18 lives at a cramped apartment.

“Why didn’t the government departments learn from the previous incident and take the necessary actions to prevent such mishaps and now, they are turning the target on these migrant dwellers,” wrote one of them, known as Da Jing.

So, where can these evicted tenants go in the freezing cold weather, with temperatures of between 8°C and -6°C?

Prices at motels and low-budget hotels have also gone up, due to high demand. Those who could not afford or find temporary shelters were made homeless overnight.

Apart from these apartments, small hotels, eateries, shops and warehouses are also on the list of the clean-up campaign.

Unapproved buildings will be demolished.

The inspection at stores, including those of couriers and e-commerce delivery companies, has slowed services in Beijing.

The companies apologised for the delay on their official accounts on Weibo, citing reasons such as their stores being forced to move or being unable to charge their electrical delivery vehicles.

This fire has affected millions of people residing in this capital city.

Police have since picked up 18 people for investigations.

They included Jufuyuan Apart­ment’s leaseholder and unqualified workers involved in the construction and installation of the refrigeration facility.

Daxing district chief Cui Zhicheng resigned over the fatal fire, as announced last Wednesday.

Three other officials – namely the district deputy chief Du Zhiyong, who was in charge of safety; Xihongmen town party chief Zheng Yajun and mayor Si Wentao – were suspended for incompetence in daily safety examinations and repairs and poor leadership, reported China Daily.

Ten more low-ranking officials, alleged to be directly responsible for the incident, were being investigated.

A career fair, offering jobs like drivers, security guards and cleaners, was held for those who lost their jobs when their employers were told to shut down unsafe factories or warehouses during the campaign.


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Opinion , Beh Yuen Hui , columnist

   

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