Baldia fire tribunal report ready, to be made public once CM decides

Over 40 testimonies recorded, findings kept secret۔

Our Correspondent October 30, 2012

KARACHI: The inquiry tribunal into the Baldia garment factory fire in which 259 worker perished has concluded but can only be made public once the chief minister takes it up.

“We have communicated to the chief minister that the tribunal has done its job,” its head, Justice (retd) Zahid Qurban Ali, told The Express Tribune. “We are waiting [to hear] whether the findings of the report will be unveiled by the CM himself or us.”

Waqar Mehdi, the special assistant to the CM, who deals with the press, said that the tribunal was given one week to submit its report, but it took more time. Then the CM left for the US before Eid. They would unveil it soon, he said.

A day after the fire at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Baldia town, the Sindh government formed the tribunal headed by Justice Alvi on September 12. They were given a week to unearth the cause of the fire. It started proceedings on September 17 and wrapped up work within 12 days.

One and a half months have passed since it has been ready, but it has yet to be submitted to the chief minister.

Justice Alvi has reportedly approached CM House but always returned with a message that the CM will inform him of a convenient time to submit the findings.

The tribunal recorded the statements of more than 40 people including factory owners, police, workers (who survived the inferno), forensic experts, the fire brigade, labour and civil defence officials. The trade union leaders and medico legal officers who had conducted the autopsies also testified.

During the hearings, officials were often rude and said that they had no authority to examine the factory. Allegations and counter allegations were levelled between government departments. The employers held the fire brigade responsible for what they said was reaching late. The fire brigade cited a “short circuit” and the police found the employees negligent.

Justice Alvi declined to speak about the findings, saying that it would be better to wait until it was made public.

The same response was given by another member of the tribunal, Khalilul Rehman Shaikh, the then additional secretary to the home department, who is now working with the finance department.

The government has compensated the legal heirs of the victims. The federal government announced Rs0.4 million and the provincial government gave Rs0.3 million to each family. During the cheque distribution ceremony held at CM House in September, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf had directed the federal labour and manpower ministry to give each family Rs0.5 million. A real estate tycoon donated Rs0.2 million to the heirs as well.

The deadline for the final list of charges or challan in the Baldia factory fire case was extended to November 2. The owners, Arshad and Shahid Bhaila, are being presented for their hearings from jail where they are being kept. DNA reports for around 28 unidentified victims are still pending.

Two Baldia fire victims identified     

Two more victims of the Baldia factory incident were identified on Tuesday. DNA tests confirmed the identities of Rafaqat Liaquat, a resident of Ittehad Town, and Shahbaz Mohammad, a resident of Baldia Town.

Both men worked in the stitching room of the ill-fated Ali Enterprises factory. Investigations have confirmed that the highest number of deaths took place in that room. The bodies, which were at the Edhi morgue, were handed over to the families of the victims. An Edhi official said that around 29 more unidentified bodies remain at the morgue.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2012.


haji | 9 years ago | Reply

Baldia Karachi Factory Fire resulted in enormous loss of life; however instead of learning from this tragedy we are playing the blame game, without changing our attitudes and behaviors. As reported the officials were rude and police blames employer. In this case we have jailed the owners of the factory and accused them of pre meditated murder. Factory owners were running the factory and providing needed jobs to the community. They were paying significant amount of taxes and bringing in much needed foreign exchange and revenue. This factory was run by two very well educated brothers who choose to invest in a country where no one would dare to invest. We need to ask ourselves that why these individuals knowingly would harm their own factory and would kill the factory workers. The accusation by police that these brothers ordered the doors of the factory to be closed seems ludicrous. The two witnesses that were produced in the court later changed their statements, stating in front of the magistrate that they were tortured by police to give false statements and they fear for their safety. What message we are giving to the investors in Pakistan? That if by accident any worker is injured and killed you will be charged with pre meditated murder (302) and you and your staff will be tortured to give statements that will prove that you are indeed the killer of your own workers. A reasonable course of action would have been to look scientifically for the cause of this fire and following this investigation on the news I came to know that there are no facilities exists in forensic department to know the cause of the fir. Industrial fire safety department should inspect all factories. Inspections mean real inspections not a drive to get bribes from the factory owners. Fire alarms, fire drills should be mandatory and the factory staff needs to be trained to avoid human loss in case of fire. We need to bring the fire brigade in line with the modern world. We earn significant tax revenue from industrial units and we should place enough resources to provide them with adequate equipment and training. Media should run fire safety programs and educate the masses. For the Baldia factory fire victims although no compensation is adequate but both government and the owners should provide reasonable monetary compensation. Blaming owners and accusing them of premeditated murder defies rationale and conveys a negative message to those who invest in our country and provide livelihood to hundreds of people.

Anjum Altaf | 9 years ago | Reply

The article "Two Fires" by Professor CM Naim (Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago) is a must-read for people interested in worker rights and occupational safety legislation. It compares the Baldia Fire with the Triangle Fire in New York City one hundred years ago and recalls the tremendous impact of the latter on labor protection laws. It provides motivation to people in Pakistan to ensure that report of the inquiry tribunal is not an eyewash and that it becomes instrumental in preventing such accidents in the future.

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