Factory fire tribunal: ‘Negligence’ lands officials in hot water

Court adds four institutional heads as suspects as final charge-sheet submitted.

Rizwan Shehzad November 14, 2012

KARACHI: Non-bailable arrest warrants have been issued against four government officials, who will now be treated as suspects in the Baldia factory fire, for negligence on their part.

A district and sessions court passed the orders on Wednesday to include labour director, Zahid Qurban Shaikh, SITE managing director, Rashid Ahmed Solangi, Civil Defence additional controller, Ghulam Akbar, and Karachi Region-II electric inspector, Amjad Ali, in the inquiry.

The second judicial magistrate West, Sohail Ahmed Mashori, also issued warrants against them as their negligence played a vital part in the worst industrial disaster in the country that claimed the lives of over 250 factory workers.

The case investigating officer, Jahanzaib Khan, had earlier submitted the final charge-sheet implicating only the factory owners. No intentional negligence or failure was established on part of the government departments, SITE Limited, labour department, electric inspector, fire department, civil defence and their officials. The other “accused” departments mentioned in the FIR were excluded as “institutions could not be charged since they were not persons and departmental action could be taken against them.”

In his order, the judge stated that police had sought time on the grounds that they had to fix responsibility of the institutions and in that sense, the investigating officer’s contention was not lawful.

Jahanzaib Khan had requested the court to omit charges against the government departments from the charge-sheet under section 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage) and 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intension to destroy a house, etc) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Institutions have a statutory role related to mechanical, electrical, building construction and other faults as per their mandate and any omission or negligence lies with the institutional heads, who failed to conduct such inspections despite being at the helm of affairs, Mashori stated in the order.

The electric inspectors were legally bound to certify the whole electrical system from time to time to prevent accidents and to adopt necessary safety measures. Similarly, SITE had to prevent unauthorised construction while the civil defence department had to conduct necessary inspections and install safety equipment. Moreover, the labour officials ignored safety inspections in violation of Section 25 of the Factories Act, 1934.

“The investigating officer has failed to determine the liability of officers of the institutions mentioned in the FIR, lodged on behalf of the state by SHO,” Mashori stated, “and the conversion of the accused into witnesses was not permissible under the law.”

The court also granted three different applications submitted by the defence lawyer on last hearing related to unfreezing seized bank accounts of factory owners, deploying private security guards at the factory and access to the factory’s warehouse.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2012.


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