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.