The Sindh government has been ordered to inspect all factories across the province to see if safety of workers is ensured or not and get all unregistered industrial units registered within 20 days.
The Sindh High Court was on Tuesday hearing a petition seeking judicial inquiry into the country’s worst industrial disaster, in which more than 250 workers were burnt alive at a garment factory In Baldia Town on September 11.
The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan among others non-governmental organisations had taken to court the factory owners - Abdul Aziz Bhailla and his two sons Arshad and Shahid - on charges of murder and criminal negligence.
The court was requested to constitute a judicial commission to fix the responsibility of the factory fire and suggest monetary compensations for the victims’ heirs. In another miscellaneous application, the petitioners appealed to the court to ensure compliance of its earlier order regarding safety of factory workers under labour laws. On November 6, the high court had directed the labour, industries and other departments to survey all industrial units in Karachi and submit their report on fire and safety measures in place at the factories.
On Tuesday, Justice Maqbool Baqir, heading a two-member bench, took up the case.
Under Section 9 of Rule 3 of Factories Act, 1934, all factories were to be registered with the directorate of labour. But the owners of Ali Enterprises had not bothered to register their industrial unit, the labour secretary told the court. After the Baldia factory fire, the secretary added, all regional and divisional officers were instructed to start registering the factories within their respective areas.
Expressing their annoyance over the manner the registration issue was being dealt with, the judges ordered the provincial labour and industries department to inspect all those factories and industrial units operating across Sindh to implement workers’ safety arrangements by December 3.
The court also ordered that the department take legal action against any factory owner who tries to avoid registration of his factory or the government officials, who may interfere in the process.
The court directed the Sindh government to speed up the process of DNA tests to identify around 70 unidentified victims of the factory fire, besides submitting the details of compensation given to the victims’ families on the next date of hearing.
The police officer investigating the Baldia factory case submitted the much-awaited final charge-sheet with statements from around 308 witnesses to the district public prosecutor, Syed Anwar Shah. It could not, however, be placed before the judicial magistrate West, Sohail Ahmed Mashori, who is hearing the case.
A committee, comprising four deputy district public prosecutors, will first scrutinise the charge-sheet to see if there are any problems with it and then bring it on the court’s record, DPP Anwar Shah told journalists.
The judge put off the hearing on two applications filed by the factory owners against the seizure of their assets and handing over the possession of the gutted factory building to them, respectively. The court will examine the final charge-sheet and hear arguments on the applications today (Wednesday).
Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2012.