SHC irked over no headway in probe

Seeks report from SEPA on cause of fatalities following gas leak

Our Correspondent January 21, 2021


The Sindh High Court (SHC) was irked on Wednesday when flaws were pointed out in the investigation of the Keamari gas leak and the investigation officer (IO) failed to confirm whether multiple casualties in Keamari early last year were in fact caused by toxic fumes that contaminated the air in the area back then.

"Who will solve the mystery of the deaths?" rebuked Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, who headed the two-member bench, hearing the plea pertaining to the gas leak incident and ensuing fatalities.

The bench, also comprising Justice Amjad Ali Sahito, summoned the investigation SSP and Karachi Port Trust (KPT) officials, in addition to seeking a progress report in the probe of the incident from the IO and a report on the cause of the deaths from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency.

The court inquired about the progress in investigations from the IO.

According to the IO, six cases of the gas leak had been registered and declared A-Class.

When he shared the information with the court, Justice Sahito questioned, "How come the cases were declared A-Class when the cause of the death has not been ascertained so far?"

The court observed that the samples from the contaminated air in Keamari were collected 48 hours after the leakage was reported and toxic fumes would not be present in the air for that long.

It was further irked when the IO said he did not have any report on the cause of deaths following the gas leak.

"I don't know whether the deaths were caused by fumigation, a [toxic] gas or for a reason other than these," he told the court.

At this, Justice Sahito censured, "There seems to be no one [willing] to investigate the matter with sincerity. People were killed but no one has been held accountable."

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The judge said that it appeared that the police assigned the investigation of the case to protect KPT officials.

The deputy advocate general informed the court that autopsy was performed on just one of the bodies of those who died in Keamari after the gas leak.

"And in the autopsy report, the cause of the death is simply stated as 'unnatural'. It is not specified beyond that," he said.

At this, the court rebuked, "Can the KPT, the federal government or anyone else tell us what caused the deaths?"

The counsel for the KPT maintained that none of the fatalities took place within the agency's jurisdiction and hence, it could not be held accountable for the fatalities.

In turn, the court questioned that who was to determine the cause of the deaths.

The counsel for the KPT replied that the Sindh government was responsible for ascertaining the cause of the deaths.

Expressing annoyance at the Sindh and federal government over their failure to present rational arguments, the court adjourned the hearing until February 11.

Missing persons case

Separately, a two-member bench headed by Justice Naimatullah Phulpoto and comprising Justice Abdul Mobeen Lakho sought reports from the Sindh home department secretary and the Ministry of Defence secretary on pleas pertaining to the non-recovery of missing persons.

The court also summoned the Karachi AIG, expressing annoyance at the police, and issued the arrest warrant of the IO.

It rejected a report submitted by the IO on the matter.

"Recover missing persons or else the court would have no choice, but to send officials to jail," Justice Phulpoto admonished the IO. "We can even send the IO to jail right now."

The court further remarked that the SHC would set an example by sending the home department secretary and the Ministry of Defence secretary to jail.

It then issued the arrest warrant of the IO and directed the parties to submit reports, including the details of missing persons and prisoners in detention centres, at the next hearing on February 18.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2021.


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