As the tribunal leading the investigation of the fire at the Baldia Town garment factory awaits a breakthrough, the owners have asked for an international inquiry.
“My clients do not trust the Pakistani investigators,” said Aamir Mansoob Qureshi, lawyer for Abdul Aziz Bhalia and his sons Arshad Bhalia and Shahid Bahlia. “They are willing to bear all expenses if an international firm takes up the case,” Qureshi informed the tribunal into the blaze which claimed the lives of 258 factory workers.
The owners of Ali Enterprises were expected to record their statements on Saturday but according to their lawyer, they couldn’t get a flight out of Rawalpindi where the courts provided them protective bail. “They will be in Karachi on Monday to give their statements,” said Qureshi, adding that the local police officials would “spoil” the case.
Going in circles
The two-member commission, formed by the Sindh government on September 12, was supposed to present its findings within a week. But Justice (Retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi, who is heading the tribunal, expressed his concern over the “lethargic attitude” of police and other government departments.
“I am still unsure how the fire started because there are loopholes in the statements provided by the police and government departments – both have been uncooperative,” said Justice Alvi in his concluding remarks on Saturday.
Earlier, the police officials had promised that they would present the CCTV footage and witnesses on Saturday, but they did not turn up.
Four committees – the police agencies, Federal Investigation Agency, the city government and the tribunal – are looking into the biggest industrial fire in Pakistan’s history.
Farooq Awan, Shaqib Sultan and Manzoor Mughul are among the police officers investigating the case. According to sources, however, the officers have been avoiding submitting statements and briefing the tribunal about the status of the investigation. An investigation officer, Inspector Chaudhry Zaffar Iqbal who shared the primary findings with the tribunal on Thursday, has reportedly been suspended and transferred.
Meanwhile, the civil defence officials presented a detailed progress report on the department’s arrangements in around 2,700 factories. Civil Defence Deputy Controller Ghulam Akbar Buriro said that volunteers from factories are being trained to deal with emergencies and rescue people. He repeated that Ali Enterprise was not registered with them.
“The smoke is still coming out of the basement of the factory,” said Justice Alvi, referring to a recent survey. He said that SSP Aamir Farooqi has been directed to look into the matter. “The windows of the second floor are still closed, making it clear that the workers lost their lives due to suffocation.”
The labour laws under Factory Act 1934 are outdated, said the judge, and requested the government to make amendments. “Strict punishment along with a heavy fine should be the penalty for those employers who flout the rules.”
During the hearing, Justice Alvi said that officials of different agencies conducting the inspection create trouble for factory owners – independent experts should be appointed to inspect the factories once a year.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2012.