While the fate of the intentional murder proceedings against the owners of the Baldia garment factory has yet to be decided, there appears to be some relief for the victims’ families.
The Sindh High Court has formed an independent commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge Rehmat Hussain Jaffery, to disburse the amount of compensation pledged by the government and private parties among the victims’ families.
A petition was filed by several human rights organisations demanding an “independent” judicial investigation of the fire that broke out in Ali Enterprises on September 11, 2012, and killed up to 259 workers. The owners of the factory were taken into custody but Abdul Aziz Bhaila was let go due to his old age. His sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, some employees and government officials are currently in jail on charges of intentional murder and criminal negligence.
At the last hearing, Faisal Siddiqui, the lawyer representing the NGOs, told the judges that a German company, KiK Textilien, which was among the buyers of readymade garments produced by Ali Enterprises, had come to an agreement over compensation with the petitioners.
“KiK Textilien has agreed to contribute $1million for immediate relief, while the amount for long term compensation will be determined through mutual negotiations later,” explained Siddiqui.
According to the agreement, in the first phase, the families of those victims who had not been identified due to severity of burns and decomposition of bodies will be given the same amount as provided to others by the government or non-government sources so far.
Out of the promised $1million, the lawyer said, that the German firm has already sent some amount to the petitioners on the condition that the money is handed over to the independent commission constituted by the court. The company insisted that the distribution takes place in a transparent manner, Siddiqui told the judges.
At the last hearing, the judges had called for proposals from the NGOs, the lawyer representing the factory owners and the relevant government departments for the commission. On Tuesday, all the stakeholders gave their consent and unanimously agreed to make Justice (retd) Rehmat Hussain Jaffery its head.
The factory owners’ lawyer, Amir Raza Naqvi, announced that his clients were even ready to contribute Rs61.8 million for the families. This amount may be ordered to be withdrawn from the total amount the factory owners have already deposited with the Nazir of the SHC.
The bench, headed by Justice Maqbool Baqir, ordered the formation of the commission that will lay down the criteria to disburse the compensation amount.
Meanwhile, the judges also gave the relevant authorities 15 days to finalise the process of DNA testing to determine the identities of the unidentified bodies. Adjourning the hearing till February 15, the bench directed the officials to submit compliance reports by the next date.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2013.