KARACHI: Inadequate ventilation, toxic fumes and carbon monoxide caused the majority of the 258 deaths at the Baldia garment factory fire. The findings were shared by the doctors who did the autopsies.
The three medico-legal officers (MLOs) of Civil, Jinnah and Abbasi Shaheed hospitals submitted the post-mortem reports at Wednesday’s hearing of the two-member tribunal investigating the fire. They all were, however, of the view that public hospitals in Karachi lacked chemical examination facilities, otherwise they could have pinpointed the actual cause of death.
Fifteen bodies were autopsied at Civil hospital of which five were unidentified, deposed Dr Khaliq Haq, the hospital’s senior MLO. “I believe the fire in plastics and other inflammable goods produced toxic gases and as there was no proper ventilation, most of the workers inhaled carbon monoxide and lost consciousness before being burnt,” he said, while requesting Justice (retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi to order that the government set up chemical examination facilities at public hospitals in Karachi.
The MLO of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Dr Jagdeesh Kumar, seconded the testimony made by Dr Haq. Around 70 bodies were taken to Jinnah hospital, some of which were unrecognisable. He also stated carbon monoxide poisoning as the reason for the most deaths at the garment factory. “A few people also lost their lives to heart attacks,” he added.
Dr Mirza Yousuf Baig of Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, who conducted the post-mortem of 13 bodies, had the same story to tell.
Earlier, two forensic experts had told the tribunal that they had no facilities or even the expertise to determine their findings. Instead, their role was confined to collecting evidence from the spot and handing it over to the police.
When Justice Alvi inquired about the forensic report and the burnt-out wires the department had sent to a laboratory at the University of Karachi, forensic inspector Asad replied that all the record related to the factory fire was with the person in charge of the department, who was abroad these days.
Tribunal report on Friday
As the tribunal concluded its proceedings on Wednesday, Justices Alvi and Khalilul Rehman Shaikh now face the task of ascertaining the actual cause of the fire. The report is likely to be submitted to the Sindh government by Friday.
The hearing, which began on September 17, recorded statements of around 35 people, including fire brigade and police officials, forensic experts, labour and civil defence officials. The employers and workers of the factory also testified.
Most of the government officials were either rude or gave less than satisfactory excuses of having no expertise or the lack of facilities. Allegations and counter allegations were levelled by different government departments and employers of Ali Enterprises.
While the fire department stated a “short circuit” as the cause of fire, its officials were not one hundred per cent sure. The police also initially claimed that a short circuit caused the fire.
While the labour and civil defence departments were even not aware of the factory in SITE, the factory owners had national and international certifications to show to the tribunal. The employers blamed the tragedy on the fire brigade arriving late.
Without even visiting the factory, the power officials claimed the fire was not caused by an electrical short circuit, while the investigation officer, ruling out the possibility of arson, held the factory owners responsible.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2012.