KARACHI: The Sindh High Court ordered the home secretary and inspector-general of police on Wednesday to provide complete protection to the witnesses of the Baldia factory fire and also preserve the evidence so far collected “fully and effectively”.
The judges have also called a report of the inquiry into the factory fire which was conducted by a government-appointed judicial commission, headed by a retired judge of the high court.
The proceedings against the factory owners by the different workers and human rights organisations took a new turn on Wednesday, as their lawyer pleaded for urgent hearing of the case, saying that he was being “threatened for representing the case.”
Faisal Siddiqui, the lawyer representing the petitioners, told the judges that he had received a threatening call and that “some people took my pictures on my visit to the courts on December 3.”
The lawyer alleged that the prosecution witnesses were being harassed by the owners of Ali Enterprises – Arshad and Shahid Bhaila – for testifying in court against them.
“The petitioners have come to know that certain people, on behalf of the factory owners, are interfering in administration of justice by turning the prosecution witnesses hostile.”
As a result, the workers who had earlier recorded their statements before police that the factory’s doors were closed on its owners’ instructions, recently gave contradictory statements before the trial court.
Siddiqui pleaded that the home secretary, inspector-general of police and investigation officer of the case should be directed to provide effective protection to the witnesses and ensure the evidence was also preserved.
Headed by Justice Maqbool Baqir, the bench issued notice to the factory owners, home secretary, IG police and others for December 19.
“Till the next date, the respondents 5 & 8 (Home secretary and IG Sindh police) as well as inquiry officer are directed to provide protection to all the prosecution witnesses in the said case and shall also take all measures to preserve evidence so far collected in the said case fully and effectively,” ordered the judges.
The same bench also issued notice to the Bhaila brothers on contempt application for not disclosing details of their assets despite repeated directions to do so.
The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan are among other workers and human rights organisations who have taken the owners to court.
On December 3, the judges had directed the brothers to submit complete details of their moveable and immovable assets, but they have willfully flouted these orders, the lawyer argued.
He asked to initiate contempt proceedings against them.
Supplementary charge sheet to be submitted on Nov 14
In the district and sessions court, police failed to submit the supplementary charge sheet before the judge hearing the factory fire case on Wednesday.
The police had to submit an additional charge sheet in the case before the second judicial magistrate, West, Sohail Ahmed Mashori, who is on leave till December 15, but instead requested for more time through prosecution for the state.
Muhammad Afzal Roshan, a judicial magistrate in district West, being a link judge heard the case and expressed dissatisfaction over the slow progress of investigations. The judge directed the prosecution to submit the final charge sheet in the court on December 14.
All the suspects, including factory owners, guards and four government officials who were included in the inquiry, were present in court. The court had issued arrest warrants against labour director Zahid Qurban Shaikh, SITE limited managing director Rashid Ahmed Solangi, additional controller Civil Defence, Central and West, Ghulam Akbar, and electric inspector of Karachi Region-II Amjad Ali, as the incident had taken place due to negligence and omission to conduct inspections.
The officials, however, had taken bail from an additional district and sessions court but the date for confirmation was extended as no charge sheet has been submitted against them so far.
In the final charge sheet, police stated that no intentional failure or negligence was found on part of the government departments and their officials and had shown them as witnesses. The judge, however, had stated that the conversion of the accused persons into witnesses was not permissible by law.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2012.