In Pakistan today hardly any perpetrators of crime have been caught or convicted. The criminal negligence of the owners and authorities alike is highlighted by the horrible incident at Ali Enterprises – the textile factory which was burnt to ashes on September 11, 2012 in Baldia Town. Over 289 people died.
The Sindh police was at its incompetent best while registering an FIR. It charged the owners of the factory with both intentional and unintentional murder. It also charged the owners with burning down their own factory and causing hurt to the head and shoulders of the people. In simpler words, the police registered a case that accused the owners of premeditated and intentional murder of some of its employees whereas other employees were murdered by the owners unintentionally. The police also thought that the owners were crazy enough to burn down their only means of livelihood without any motive.
After weeks of investigation, the police proceeded to file a report in court that maintained the charges against the accused. At this juncture, the prime minister thought that he too should jump into the picture.
Upon receiving newfound enlightenment from the very capable prime minister, the police all of a sudden came to the conclusion that the accused did not intentionally murder their own employees. Accordingly, they have recommended the charge of intentional murder be dropped.
The blunders of the police – some deliberate, others not so deliberate – led to their natural consequence and the Sindh High Court enlarged the accused on bail yesterday. If the same trend of incompetence in prosecution is followed, it will not be a surprise that the accused will also subsequently be acquitted. A total of 289 people died but the State does not have even the vaguest of clues as to who is responsible for this tragedy. If history is anything to go by, the fire at Ali Enterprises will be another case in which the government of the day will not look towards the evils within its own departments but will say that it is the judiciary that acquitted the accused.
The case of Ali Enterprises also exposes the faults in the police’s investigation system. The police continue to be a tool in the hands of rulers who have repeatedly used this organization for the purpose of political oppression and State-sponsored terrorism.
A judge can only give a verdict on the evidence that is before him or her. If the investigating agencies do not do their job properly and present half-baked and contradictory evidence to a judge what else will that judge do but give the benefit of the blunders of the investigating agencies to the accused? Bail has to be granted when the evidence on record suggests that it is a case of further inquiry.
The case of Ali Enterprises also exposes how easy it is for the rich and influential to circumvent and ignore the law. A civilized and equitable society implements its laws without fear or favour. Yet, there is very little debate in our country on why the legislation that governs factories was not complied with.
How did the owners of Ali Enterprise get away with clean chits after their inspections under the Factories Act? Was it that the rich exploited the poor workers of the factory in league with the government – an exploitation which ultimately led to their deaths?
Omar Sial is a lawyer, political activist, teacher, child rights activist
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2013.