A fuming Raza Rabbani led a walkout from the Senate on Wednesday in protest against the prime minister’s directives to drop the murder charges against the owners of a factory in Karachi, where a fire last year caused the deaths of over 200 people.
On a point of order, Senator Rabbani from the Pakistan Peoples Party expressed deep concern over reports that section 302 had been scrapped from the FIR lodged against the owners of the Baldia Town factory, where 289 workers burnt to death on September 11, 2012.
On Wednesday, in a meeting with the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had assured the business community that the murder charges against the factory owners would be dropped. This was confirmed by Minister of State for Finance Saleem Mandviwalla.
During the Upper House session, Rabbani claimed that five out of six exits of the factory had been closed off when the fire broke out and the main gate was also shut soon after.
He added that he was “shocked to hear that section 302 is being scrapped against the factory owners on the directives of the PPP prime minister”.
“The PPP is a party for the poor and labour class; it is the responsibility of the party to protect their rights,” he said.
The senator said that they had come to know that some ‘guest political actors’ had recently persuaded the prime minister to remove section 302 and had changed the investigation officer of the case as well.
“There is a double standard. When labourers went on strike for their rights in KESC, they were booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATC),” he said. “Not a single person died [in that strike], but when 280 workers were burnt to death due to the criminal negligence of an industrialist, section 302 is removed?” He felt that this should not be done by the PPP at least. “If the case is in a court of law then let the law take its course,” he added, before walking out of the house, followed by Awami National Party senators.
Leader of the House in the Senate Jahangir Badar said, however, that neither did the prime minister give any directives to remove the charges nor was it in his authority to do so. Only the chief minister was authorised to issue such directions but he did not have any information to this effect. Opposition leader Ishaq Dar echoed Rabbani’s concern and sought a detailed report into the issue from the leader of the house, which Badar assured would be presented in the Senate on Monday.
For his part, former law minister Maula Bux Chandio clarified that Section 302 had not been removed yet but that the demand had been made by the business community on the grounds that it was not applicable as there was no intention to murder.
Earlier, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and the Balochistan National Party (Awami) also staged a walkout for the third consecutive day against the imposition of Governor Rule in Balochistan.
Senator Kalsoom Perveen said that Balochistan had been singled out by the imposition of Governor Rule given that law and order issues existed in every province.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Jafar Iqbal pointed out that the Punjab governor was issuing controversial statements on breaking the Punjab into many provinces. Senator Farhatullah Babar responded by saying that the committee on the creation of new provinces had nothing to do with the governor’s statements.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2013.