The federal finance department has deducted Rs129.5 million from the budgetary allocation of the Workers Welfare Fund so the amount can be paid to the workers who died in the Baldia factory fire but none of the families have received the promised amount.
This was disclosed before a Sindh High Court division bench, headed by Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar, during the hearing of a petition seeking compensation. Official figures say 259 workers were burnt alive inside the garments factory on September 11, 2012.
On Friday, the court was informed that compensation of Rs500,000 each was announced for the families of the victims by the Workers Welfare Fund on November 20, 2012.
The court was informed that the finance department has already deducted the amount, which was to be paid in addition to the compensations announced by the prime minister and the provincial government. In a letter, the provincial labour secretary, who is also the Workers Welfare Fund board chairman, had requested the Workers Welfare Fund Islamabad secretary to personally ensure the release of the Rs129.5 million grant.
The bench directed the secretary to release the amount for distribution, especially since the amount has already been deducted from the budget.
The provincial labour secretary informed that the then Pakistan Peoples Party federal government had provided Rs84 million to the provincial government for the payment of Rs400,000 to each family as part of the compensation pledged by the prime minister. The amount has been disbursed among 210 families, while 45 are still waiting to receive their payments. The secretary's lawyer, Samiullah Soomro, said the provincial government has distributed all of the funds that it had received from the Centre.
The bench directed the Karachi commissioner, who was dealing with the compensation payments, to verify whether the amount has been paid to the 210 families as claimed by the labour secretary. The commissioner will also have to explain why the other 45 families have yet to be paid.
The judges directed the commissioner to make all efforts to obtain funds from the federal government as soon as possible, observing that it is unfortunate that despite the lapse of two years, some families still remain unpaid. The labour secretary also claimed that the Rs300,000 compensation amount announced by the provincial government has been paid to 210 of the families, while 45 are still unpaid.
The bench directed the Karachi commissioner to verify these facts within the next three weeks.
A reply from the Employees Old-Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) revealed that the federal government had paid statutory pension to 74 of the families, but the remaining have yet to be paid. The bench directed EOBI authorities to submit a statement containing the details of those who are receiving the pension, as well as an explanation as to why the others are not.
Jawad Sarwan, who represented the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (Sessi), said the statutory death compensation has been paid to most of the victims' families, while the remaining 29 claims are being processed.
The court also requested print and electronic media to publish the list in full details, notifying the listed families to approach Sessi in order to receive the death grant and the survival compensation.
The court also directed the the DNA lab incharge at the National Forensic Science Authority to submit a report outlining how many of the burnt bodies have been identified within the next two weeks. The case was adjourned till September 26.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2014.