Court orders fresh FIR over furnace blast deaths

Police trying to circumvent registration of FIR as families struggle to find justice

Usman Hanif January 15, 2019
Police trying to circumvent registration of FIR as families struggle to find justice. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The Malir Court ordered on Monday to register a new FIR into a furnace explosion at the Atlas Metals plant near Landhi Manzil Pump on November 15, which had claimed the lives of six workers. Ever since, the victims' families have been running from pillar to post in search of justice.

Despite the court's orders on Monday, however, police officials were trying to avoid registering the case. "The other party has approached the high court," reasoned Shah Latif Police Station SHO Naik Muhammad Khosa. When asked who the other party was, SHO Khosa replied, "Atlas Honda", adding that the "other party" had submitted their petition to the police, on the basis of which they had not registered the case.

Legally, a petition holds no significance and the lower court's orders for the registration of the FIR must be followed. The police, however, may have good reason for not registering the FIR.

Two die in boiler explosion at refrigerator factory

Initial reports

According to initial reports, a boiler had exploded in the factory, but a preliminarily inspection report of the accident refuted the claim.

The report, released by the Sindh Government Boilers Industries Department Chief Inspector, stated that a team of boiler inspectors of the industries department visited the site on November 16. The report said that molten metal and combustible gases from rotary tilting furnace splashed out accidently around the furnace and burned the workers and equipment nearby.

At the time, Malir SSP Irfan Bahadur had said that the Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had ordered an inquiry of the incident. He added that the Karachi Commissioner had formed a team to investigate the incident, which would share their findings with the police.

The police would carry out its own investigation, he had said, adding that action would be taken against anyone found guilty. The statements were never followed through.

What really happened

Atlas Metals is a subsidiary of the Atlas Group, which also owns the Atlas Honda auto-manufacturing company.

Some years ago, Atlas Metals used to manufacture metals needed for batteries.  As the demand for batteries declined in the country due to improvement in electric supply, the factory changed its production line and producing a new metal, most probably aluminum. The furnace was not designed to melt aluminum so it backfired, said Sharifullah Muhammad, a brother of Muhammad Aamir, who was a metallurgical engineer at Atlas Metals.

Aamir was one of six victims and succumbed to his wounds at a hospital some time later. Before he died, however, he had called his brother and told him about a diary in his office drawer, in which he had written about the new experiment being carried out at the factory.

The furnace, according to Sharifullah, had malfunctioned as it was not designed for aluminum, causing an explosion when the metal reached a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius. The boiling metal surged from the furnace, spilling over the workers and causing severe burns.

"Aamir told me he had resisted the experiment, but someone from the upper management was adamant to proceed," claimed Sharifullah.

When victim's family reached his office after his death, they were initially not allowed inside with the excuse that it was a crime scene. That same crime scene was quickly washed to sweep away all evidences, said Sharifullah.

"Amir's daughter was just 14 days old when he succumbed to the criminal negligence of someone who we are not even able to hold accountable," lamented Sharifullah.

Atlas Metals CEO Ahmed Ali Zafaryab did not respond to repeated calls and text messages.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2019.


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