Baldia Town factory fire: Murder charges against factory owners dropped

Published: January 24, 2013

The governor told the media that the president had assured him that injustice will not be meted out to the victims’ families. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: 

In a move that is likely to baffle most and one that reeks of a cover-up, murder charges against the owners of the Baldia Town factory – the worst factory fire in the world in recent times – have been withdrawn, confirmed Minister of State for Finance Saleem Mandviwalla on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, in a meeting with the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), assured members of the business community that murder charges against the factory owners would be dropped.

However, in a late night development on Wednesday, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad approached the premier and President Asif Ali Zardari to reconsider the decision. The governor told the media that the president had assured him that injustice will not be meted out to the victims’ families.

Moments after the telephonic conversation, Ebad contacted Sindh Inspector General Police Fayaz Leghari to continue the investigation into the case without changing the investigation officers. According to reports, Mandviwala is likely to arrive in Karachi soon to hold meetings with the business community and Sindh governor.

More than 250 people lost their lives on September 11 last year when a fire broke out at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Baldia Town. The case was registered under sections related to murder against the factory owners, its general manager, security guards and some government officials over negligence.

When contacted by The Express Tribune earlier, Mandviwalla, a political appointee, muddled the issue further by saying that the case itself had not been dropped as reported by a certain section of the media.

“Only section 302 has been removed from the FIR,” he said, explaining that the section was inapplicable in the case since no murder had actually been committed. However, he added that it is still legally possible for the police to make changes in the FIR if their investigation points towards ill intentions.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Executive Director Karamat Ali said the Prime Minister had no authority to change a case that was under trial. He maintained police cannot change the FIR without the court’s permission either and authorities needed to present an application before the court if they want to remove section 302 from the case.

“The court will hear the case on Monday (January 28), so it is too early to comment,” he added.

Meanwhile, KCCI President Muhammad Haroon Agar confirmed the chamber had approached the premier for the withdrawal of murder charges against the factory owners.

“We do not want to protect the exporter,” defended Agar, adding, “We just want the government to determine the sort of negligence that led to such a catastrophe.”

“The factory had various international security compliance certificates, including ISO 9000, which are not easy to acquire in absence of fire safety arrangements,” he maintained.

Case transferred to Orangi Town DSP

To further confuse the case, investigation itself has been transferred to the Orangi Town police deputy superintendent (DSP), The Express Tribune has learnt.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Jahanzaib Khan, the former investigating officer in the case, said he was ordered by the Investigations deputy inspector general (DIG) to transfer the case to the Orangi Town DSP.

“I am complying with orders,” he added.

According to Khan, a board headed by Investigations DIG Manzoor Mughal decided to transfer the case after hearing certain complaints. He added that if a complainant or accused party was dissatisfied with the investigation, they could request a transfer.

“No reasons have been disclosed in the letter that I have received as to why the case was being transferred,” said Khan.

“I have transferred the case with a heavy heart… all my hard work has gone into vain.”

Investigations, case property and all other things would also be handed over to the investigators concerned, he added.

However, DIG West Javed Odho denied any orders to transfer the case had been issued. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT BY FARHAN ZAHEER)

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2013.

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (17)

  • bilal
    Jan 24, 2013 - 5:05AM

    how much money?

    Recommend

  • Adil
    Jan 24, 2013 - 5:20AM

    What’s 250 lives compared to 250,000 rupees? Even more rupees mean even less value of lives!

    Recommend

  • American Desi
    Jan 24, 2013 - 6:42AM

    Simply, shame!

    Recommend

  • Jan 24, 2013 - 7:02AM

    This case may have been the worst factory fire in the world but it got much less attention in the international media than the Bangladesh factory fires which were covered extensively for a week. I guess the lives of Pakistanis don’t matter much to anyone.

    Recommend

  • RQ
    Jan 24, 2013 - 7:03AM

    Welcome to Pakistan!!!
    Heaven of the rich.

    Recommend

  • Mahmood
    Jan 24, 2013 - 7:54AM

    Words cannot express how disgusting this is. No changes brought in industrial working conditions and factory practices, 200 dead, and now no legal charges.. Is Pakistan the land where you can murder en masse and then walk scott-free. If the legal system fails us – let the public boycott this business family. To the victims and their families : you deserved better, much much better.

    Recommend

  • Pakistan Lover
    Jan 24, 2013 - 8:24AM

    A muk-mukaa between the factory owners & the government.

    Recommend

  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Jan 24, 2013 - 8:46AM

    The government is bribed by the business community to drop the murder charges.

    One should investigate how much money the factory owner or the business community have given to the government.

    Chief Justice of zpakistan is requested to make sure that justice is done with the legal heirs of the people who were burnt alive in BaldiaTown Fire incident.

    Recommend

  • Ayesha Bhaalay
    Jan 24, 2013 - 8:53AM

    Only in Pakistan. I’m sad. They just waited a few months for all the public anger to cool down. :|

    Recommend

  • Rahman Khan
    Jan 24, 2013 - 9:26AM

    I am not familiar with the criminal laws in Pakstan but I believe that the conduct of the owners may fall within the definition of ” Criminal Negligence” which is defined as follows:

    “Criminal negligence” means that a person acts with criminal negligence when the person ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the alleged victim will be killed. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the accused person’s standpoint.

    The learned Court should consider if the above definition could be applied in this case and if so, the owners could then be prosecuted for Criminally Negligent Homicide, a lesser charge than First Degree Homicide.

    I hope whatever the courts rule, would give some closure to the aggrieved families.

    Recommend

  • mohajiriad
    Jan 24, 2013 - 10:46AM

    The court had asked NAB to arrest our great PM. Let us push for it or else we will keep hearing more news like this.

    Recommend

  • Radial
    Jan 24, 2013 - 10:56AM

    This is not a murder case. It seems appropriate for manslaughter and criminal negligence charges, for which jail terms and civil penalties could be imposed. But its not murder.

    Recommend

  • Muhammad Saad Siddiqui
    Jan 24, 2013 - 4:24PM

    I am certain that their will be no protests from the so called ‘civil society’ as the effected does not belong to their class… Shahzeb’s family was powerful and have political backgrounds but the families of Baldia factory effected belongs to poor working class…. So no one will hear their voice and their will be no protest for them in front of McDonalds seaview or DHA/Clifton area…..

    Recommend

  • Jan 24, 2013 - 11:55PM

    Media has muddled the case, not the government.

    How can you have an FIR for murder charges on the owners when there is no evidence of wrong going by them. This FIR may only be registered when actual murder has taken place. Fires erupt everywhere but you don’t just go and catch the owners. There should be proper investigations before any charges may be put.

    Meanwhile, I was hoping that labour minister and minister for industries, etc. be also brought to the court to reply about the factory’s safety record.

    I hope court will do justice. It needs to look matter clearly not emotionally.

    Recommend

  • Atif
    Jan 26, 2013 - 11:56AM

    in my opinion, government is in a big mess, first one FIR was lodged with 302 without any evidence, no where in the world such charge is imposed on a person who has been struck byu an accident. media and other people are shouting that doors were closed and bla bla.. they need to read the tribunal report and more to it, police it self claims in the challan that no doors were locked and police was there in no time after fire started, now how can a sane person belive that owners asked to lock the doors in presence of police? the police has not written a single line about owners closing the doors or setting the fire themselves.
    people in our country are so illetrate that they blindly follow media and what it shows to them, in first place they do not know the meaning of 302.

    before following media, people should thinkfor a moment that was it the case of 302? only owners are behind bars, no other authority..

    why media not raising this question? any bells ringing?

    Recommend

  • Atif
    Jan 26, 2013 - 11:58AM

    and, for people who are asking that how much money is involved.. shame on them. if money was involved , owners would have not been in jail the very first day, and if money was involved they could have flewnout of country from back door like sharukh jatoi did :)

    Recommend

  • Sadia
    Jan 26, 2013 - 1:39PM

    Who ever is saying that the owners have bribed the govt so all of those ppl should go and study a little bit of law .. 302 means intentional muder and if the owners have burnt their factory and all the workers so they should be sent to mental hospital and not jail because no sane person can do such a thing .. Plus 302 charges were also against the govt depts like fire dept site association labour association and they all are still on bail and not behind the bars .. If the factories owners are supposed to be in jail then they should also be caught

    Recommend

More in Sindh