KARACHI: The hearing of the Baldia factory fire case was adjourned once again on Saturday without any proceedings due to a delay on the part of authorities to inform the court about which investigation is to be considered final.
Three years on, the trial of the ghastly incident in which 260 labourers perished in a fire at Ali Enterprises garment factory is yet to be initiated due to various controversies.
So far, three investigation reports have been submitted in court: the first sees the incident as premeditated murders due to lack of safety arrangements, the second says it was an accident, however, the third one, completed recently, considers it a planned terrorist activity.
During Saturday's hearing, additional West district and sessions judge Maqbool Memon asked the investigation officer, sub-inspector (SI) Jahanzeb Khan, about the reply from the home department over the new investigation report, which states that the factory was set on fire after owners failed to pay extortion money to a political party.
At a previous hearing around a month ago, the officer representing the joint investigation team, SP Sajid Sadozai, had told the court that the report was sent to the home department for approval to re-register the case under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
SI Khan replied that he was not aware of any development as SP Sadozai was transferred to Kandhkot and there were reports that he had been replaced.
Informing the court about his poor health, Khan said he recently underwent surgery and was unable to travel, due to which he was not performing any duty.
Expressing displeasure, the judge remarked that it was a sensitive case and investigators were exhibiting negligent behaviour. Addressing SI Khan, the judge said if he is not fit to perform duty, he better stay at home. Khan apologised and pleaded that he would be careful in the future.
Currently, the factory owners — Abdul Aziz Bhaila, his sons Arshad and Shahid — and their five employees — manager Mansoor, and others — have been implicated in the case.
During the hearing, the factory owners, who are out of the country for medical treatment, submitted their apology for not making it to the court and sought exemption. The other accused were, however, present, except for Mansoor.
The judge asked the investigating officer (IO) about Mansoor's absence, to which he said he was not available at his address. Mansoor's attorney intervened and told the court that his client was in the custody of Rangers. The judge replied that if the suspect was with the paramilitary force, it should be proved in court with documents.
Meanwhile, the victims' counsel, Salahuddin Panwhar, pleaded to the court to pass an order over the unusual delay in proceedings and submitted that investigators were using delaying tactics. Lawyers representing the other accused also moved the court insisting that the hearing be adjourned since the legal fraternity was observing a black day to mark the anniversary of the Tahir Plaza fire incident that occurred on April 9, 2008. The judge, concluding the hearing, allowed the IO till May 2 to get things in order and present Mansoor in court.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2016.