KARACHI: The police looking into the Baldia factory fire have asked for a fourth extension, eliciting a frustrated response from the defense.
“Why did the police arrest my clients if they did not have sufficient evidence against them?” asked Amir Raza Naqvi, who is representing the owners of Ali Enterprises. “Instead of making a case before the arrests, police are now scrambling to build one.”
On September 11, Karachi’s worst industrial fire struck, killing at least 289 workers. The owners of Ali Enterprises Arshad and Shahid Bhaila were arrested. By October 4, the police had drawn up a list of interim charge sheet. But they repeatedly asked for more time to investigate before presenting to the judge a final charge sheet.
Naqvi pointed out that the police could take as much time as they need to investigate but his clients should not be kept behind bars during that time. “I fail to understand why they have been arrested – there is no evidence against my clients and they should be released right now.”
Pointing at the investigation officer, Naqvi said, “They have nothing which can justify the arrest.” If this is the police’s way of carrying out an investigation, said the counsel, then residents of the area and others should also be behind bars.
“My clients are from an educated family and are tax payers of this country – they should be transferred to a jail with better facilities.” Naqvi also requested the court to unfreeze his clients’ accounts and submitted requests to unseal a warehouse located near the factory to access factory records.
The second civil judge and judicial magistrate, West, Sohail Ahmed Mashori, heard this and granted the police only one more week to wrap up their investigation and submit a final charge sheet. However, the judge told the investigating officer, Jahanzaib Khan, that he was not satisfied with the pace of the investigation. Khan has asked for 14 more days and Khan told the judge that the investigation could not be completed because of the Eid holidays and his ill health.
“What have you done so far?” Judge Mashori asked Khan. “Show me some progress – I had given you 10 days before as well. Show me the case diary or daily progress.”
In reply, Khan said that he had already presented the proof and witnesses in court and seized the locks and a rusty ‘exit’ door. Around 150 to 200 people lost their lives because the factory gates were locked, reiterated Khan. “Had the doors been open, the number of casualties would have been lower.”
He was unable to satisfy the court when the judge asked whether he had recorded statements of SITE limited, the labour department, the Sindh Building Control Authority and other stakeholders in the case. According to Khan, most departments have not cooperated with the investigation while the joint director of the labour department had deputed an officer but he has not returned from rural Sindh. The judge asked him to submit the documents showing functions and powers of the department before the court at the next hearing.
The Bhailas’ request to be transferred to a better class in jail was granted. The next hearing is set for November 12.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 3rd, 2012.