How police traced the toxic fumes that killed six family members

Federal government lodge staff used poisonous chemical for fumigation, which caused the deaths, say police

Our Correspondent March 14, 2019
Federal government lodge staff used poisonous chemical for fumigation, which caused the deaths, say police. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The heart-wrenching incident of the deaths of five minor children and their aunt under mysterious circumstances had sent shockwaves in the civil bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies, not just of Sindh, but of Balochistan too where the family hailed from.

Over three weeks after the incident, the Karachi Police have given a detailed account of how they reached the conclusion that the deaths occurred due to the inhalation of poisonous fumes that had accumulated in their guest room at the Qasr-e-Naz federal lodges. The room, it turns out, had been fumigated for bed bugs hours before the family moved in.

Addressing a press conference in the Saleem Wahidi Auditorium at the Clifton Driving License Branch on Wednesday, South DIG Sharjeel Kharal explained how the police had gone about investigating the incident that occurred on February 21.

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The police received information of the incident at 9:30 am on February 22. Ever since, the investigators have interrogated over 55 people and arrested nine accused after determining the persons responsible for it in light of forensic reports. The arrested accused include the chief engineer, assistant executive engineer, sub-engineer, assistant controller, contractor, receptionist and the housekeeper of Qasr-e-Naz. The DIG added that if any further information was brought to the fore or anyone else found accountable during the investigation process, which is still ongoing, they would be arrested too.

The ill-fated family

According to DIG Kharal, the the victims' father, Faisal Zaman had come to Karachi from Quetta with his wife, Nida Faisal and their five children, one-and-a-half year-old Abdul Ali, four-year-old Aziz Faisal, six-year-old Alina, seven-year-old Tauheed and nine-year-old Salwa on Thursday night. Faisal's sister, Beena Badruddin, also accompanied them on the trip.

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The reason for undertaking the trip was to get a medical opinion for Nida, who had suffered a leg injury. Thinking they would make a mini-vacation out of the journey, they had brought the children along. Little did they know that the mini-vacation would turn out to be their worst nightmare.

En route, the family stopped at a friend's house in Khuzdar for lunch. They then left for Karachi, briefly stopping at Hub Chowki to get snacks for the children. The snacks, according to the Faisal, included packaged chips and juices for children.

The family arrived in Karachi late on Thursday evening and checked into room A-58 at the government officers' lodge, Qasr-e-Naz. According to DIG Kharal, Faisal had arranged for the family's lodging at Qasr-e-Naz through a friend.

Later that evening, Faisal bought biryani from the Naubahar Restaurant near the Passport Office in Saddar, which he brought back to the guest house for the family.

The ordeal

Several hours later, Nida complained of feeling uneasy and asked her husband to take her to the hospital. Faisal immediately rushed her to the Aga Khan University Hospital. Sometime later, Faisal received a call from his sister, Beena, who too complained that the children's health as well as her own was deteriorating.

Faisal rushed back to Qasr-e-Naz, helped his sister and children into the car and drove them to the AKUH. On reaching the hospital, doctors pronounced the children dead.

Beena's condition was said to be unstable and she was immediately shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The next day, she too passed away. The children's mother, meanwhile, was discharged after treatment.

The investigation

On receiving the report of the deaths, the police's crime scene unit reached the site and sealed the room. Initially, they suspected it to be a case of food poisoning, which is why they also summoned the Sindh Food Authority's officials to aid them with the investigation. In addition, the police sealed the Naubahar Restaurant, from where Faisal had bought the family's dinner, as well as Student's Biryani, which is owned by the same proprietor.

DIG Kharal said that when the investigation teams searched Qasr-e-Naz, they found empty bottles of Aluminium Phosphide in its store. "Aluminium Phosphide is a very hazardous and poisonous chemical," said the DIG. "It directly attacks the nervous system of anyone who respires in a place where it is used, leading to their death, whether they are human or animal."

Meanwhile, the Sindh Food Authority sent samples acquired from Naubahar restaurant and Student's Biryani to the SGS laboratory in Korangi. The victims' organs were also sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency for chemical analysis.

According to the DIG, traces of aluminium phosphide were found in the victims' organs. Investigators also found that this chemical is not normally used for fumigation in houses and lodges due to its toxic nature. "There is a proper way and law present for the use of Aluminium Phosphide," he said, adding that according to the law, a licensed person does the fumigation and in accordance with the prescribed dose.

According to the records, the staff at Qasr-e-Naz had been using the chemical for a long time and brought large quantities of it. "This was being done for the past six years," said DIG Kharal. The investigators also tried to determine how this chemical was purchased, but couldn't do so because the staff hadn't been filling the requisition forms from the past several years.

The DIG said that the police concluded during their investigation that there were eight people present in the room and the children slept on the floor due to space constraints. The children breathed in the poisonous chemical, which was in larger quantities in the carpet, or it may have reacted when it came in contact with their bodies.

Traces of Aluminium Phosphide have also been found on the boxes of biryani from Naubahar restaurant. There was a high amount of powder present on the floor which could have gotten mixed in the food and become fatal for the children.

A case of negligence

The investigation has revealed that the incident is the result of severe negligence and carelessness on the part of the nine accused who have been arrested by the police. They include Chief Engineer Nadeem Akhter Sheikh, sub-engineers Mehran Ali Brohi, Ghulam Rasool, contractor of the federal lodge Nisar Awan, waiter Sajjad Hussain, housekeeper Parvez Bhatti and assistant controller Sikander Hayat, among others.

Meanwhile, Investigations SSP Tariq Dharejo said that the report of the samples collected from Student's Biryani has been received and did not reveal any glaring irregularities that may have caused the deaths. He added that they were still waiting for the report of samples acquired from Naubahar restaurant.

Speaking about the arrested accused, DP Dharejo said that they had also tried to hide the evidences by washing the room after the incident occurred. However, forensic experts found around half a tube of chemical powder even after the room was washed.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2019.

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