KARACHI: The interim challan submitted to the court on Thursday, about the fire at Ali Enterprises, revealed that the factory gates were closed on orders of the owners and the general manager when the fire broke out.
The main suspect in the case who had the factory keys, Shah Rukh, is still a figutive while the factory owners, Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his sons Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, have been granted bail by the Rawalpindi High Court. The general manager, Mansoor Ahmed, is in police custody.
The fire that broke out on September 11 claimed the lives of 258 workers in one of Pakistan’s worst industrial incidents.
The SITE-B police submitted the Challan to the second Civil Judge and Judicial Magistrate, West, Sohail Ahmed Mashori, and obtained a remand of the suspects till October 16.
According to three witnesses – Abdul Majeed, Nazir Ahmed and Zubair – Shah Rukh and other gatekeepers closed the gates on orders of Mansoor who received his instructions from the owners.
The court was asked to release suspects Muhammad Hanif and Majid Baig as no evidence was found against them. Three gatekeepers, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Muhammad, are in police custody.
Investigating Officer Jahanzaib Khan told the court that departments which were tasked with looking into different aspects of the fire did not cooperate, which led to an unnecessary delay in the investigation.
The police accused the director of the Karachi Building Control Authority, the director of the National Institute of Fire Technology Civil Defence, Islamabad, the chief fire officer of Karachi Civil Defence, the director of civil defence, joint director of the labour department, the environment director, the home department, the MD of SITE, the director of social security, the in-charge of Edhi ambulances and other related departments. They said they did not submit statements and respond to letters regarding the investigation.
The bodies of under-aged workers were also found from the factory but their ages will be confirmed through DNA tests and NADRA’s records.
According to the investigation, the fire alarm did not ring when the fire broke out and workers were not informed about the spreading inferno. The CCTV footage showed that the fire started at 6:30 pm on the ground floor and reached the mezzanine floor at 6:56 pm. This left 25 minutes for evacuation but the administration did not inform its workers, said the police. They pointed out that there was at least an hour after the fire started when the workers could have been evacuated but the administration focused on saving their material rather than the labourers.
It was also revealed that the distance between the spark which started the fire and the exit/entry points was 50 metres. The fire reportedly did not reach the stairs and exit gates.
Police have ruled out the possibility that the factory was set on fire intentionally and suspect either a short circuit or gas leakage to be the cause. No use of explosive material was also found. Another main reason identified for the fire was negligence and carelessness on the part of the factory owners and the deliberate closure of the exits points.
The police stated that the role of the departments which were supposed to submit their report can not be determined as they have yet to share their findings.
The court accepted the police’s application submitted under section 344 of the Criminal Procedure Code for a remand till October 16 and granted time for a final challan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2012.