KARACHI: Syed Nazeef Shah believes his son is dead – for all he knows is that young Obaidullah was working at Ali Enterprises on September 11, 2012 when a raging fire killed more than 250 people at the factory.
But what he does not have is closure as his son’s body was never found and the DNA test reports came back without any answer. Without proof, he cannot get a death certificate issued as well. Obaidullah reportedly joined the factory two weeks before the fire broke out but when asked for documents that could verify his employment, his father hands over irrelevant papers such as a matriculation certificate instead of a company card.
The only verification Shah can offer is through his neighbours and other residents, such as the shopkeepers and the bus conductors, who he says can vouch that Obaidullah worked at the factory.
“I have visited leaders of three political parties as well as the deputy commissioner for compensation. All of them turned me back saying that I should bring the body first,” said Shah who lives in one of the impoverished colonies of Baldia Town. “We deserve compensation. But what am I suppose to do now?”
Families still waiting
Shah’s son is among the 61 people who, as claimed by their families, were working in the factory and are still missing, their remains apparently disintegrated and washed away from the premises.
Despite almost three months gone by, 28 bodies are still lying in the morgue as authorities try to establish their identities through DNA tests.
While the matter is pending before courts, anxious families of victims whose bodies were never found shared the problems they have been facing at a press conference at Karachi Press Club.
Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER)’s executive director, Karamat Ali, said that the lack of proper records of workers shows negligence on part of the government and the factory owners.
“We could have known how many people were working in the factory at the time of the fire if the employees were registered with social security institutions, such as the Employees Old Age Benefit Institution,” he said.
PILER and other NGOs have approached the courts to come up with a way to verify these claims by families. Families of the victims who were identified have each received Rs900,000 in compensation.
According to Ali, affected families, some of whom had changed their statements before the courts, were being intimidated by the factory owners. “Faisal Siddiqui, one of the lawyers representing the families, has even received warnings to drop the case. Government must look into this as well.” He alleged that powerful industrialists were using their financial strength to influence the investigations.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2012.