KARACHI: The Sindh High Court clarified on Tuesday that determining the accuracy and relevance of the joint investigation team’s report - which held the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) responsible for the Baldia factory fire of 2012 where 259 workers were burned to death - shall be determined by a competent forum.
This was observed by the division bench, headed by Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar, after the lawyer presenting the Pakistan institute of Labour Education and Research and Fisherfolk Forum Pakistan, Faisal Siddiqui sought a clarification regarding the relevance of the JIT report to the Baldia factory fire trial.
The JIT report presented on February 6, is not entirely based on the fire incident specifically - the suspect quoted in the report was arrested for possessing illegal arms. During interrogation, he disclosed that he had information about who had started the fire at Ali Enterprises and why.
As per Siddiqui’s request, the judges had previously issued notices to the heads of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies to file their reports, if any, regarding the investigation into the factory fire.
Last week, the additional attorney general filed the JIT’s report forwarded by the Sindh Rangers based on statements given by an alleged MQM worker identified as Muhammad Rizwan Qureshi. In his statements, Qureshi had accused MQM Karachi Tanzeemi Committee’s then in-charge Hammad Siddiqui, Farooq Saleem, the party’s sector in-charge of Baldia Town Rehman Bhola, former sector in-charge Asghar Baig, of demanding Rs200 million in extortion from the owners of Ali Enterprises.
He had alleged that on their refusal to pay up, Bhola and some unidentified men threw some chemicals at the factory which started the fire. The report had also alleged that a former MQM minister got the factory owners’ bail dismissed from the SHC and a former Prime Minister had helped them get bail from the Lahore High Court. The report also claimed that the same former minister had collected Rs150 million from the owners to get their case disposed of.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Siddiqui said that there had been some misunderstanding and misconception about the report submitted by the Rangers on Friday. He claimed that the media had created an impression that the report was relevant to the Baldia case. The lawyer added that the suspect had been arrested under Section 23(1)(a) of the Sindh Arm Act for possession of illegal weapons.
The bench observed that the report was an outcome of an investigation in another case, not the result of any investigation carried out for the Baldia factory fire incident. The court ordered the media to be careful and precise while discussing any court matters in the future.
“We may, however, clarify that the veracity and relevance of the above report shall be determined by the competent forum before which it may be placed for such purpose,” said the judges.
Meanwhile, the owners of Ali Enterprises moved a miscellaneous application, seeking correction in the previous order through which the court had directed the concerned court to complete trial of the case within a year.
The owners, Arshad Bhailla and Shahid Bhailla, said that the February 6 order may be amended by incorporating the word “preferably” before the words “one year from today.”
While disposing of the plea with consent, the judges observed the order in question shall not impair the respondent factory owners’ right to fair trial.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2015.
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