Three years on, the Baldia factory fire case has yet to reach the indictment phase as the police failed to record the statements of a dramatically increased number of witnesses.
Investigation officer (IO) SI Jahanzeb told a district and sessions court on Saturday that there were around 950 prosecution witnesses and most of their statements have yet to be recorded. At the time of the submission of the chargesheet, the police had submitted a list of only 301 witnesses. Under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the police must examine all the witnesses of a case.
Expressing her displeasure, additional district and sessions judge (West) Naushaba Kazi directed Jahanzeb to complete all due procedures by the next hearing on February 22 so that copies of the statements can be provided to the accused. Copies were supplied to the accused but the defence counsel complained that the documents were incomplete.
A supplementary chargesheet submitted to the court in January 2013 is also awaiting acceptance as a special public prosecutor pursuing the case opposed the exclusion of the premeditated murder section, arguing that the accused were being relieved.
In October and November 2012, the IO had submitted interim and final chargesheets in which the suspects — factory owners Abdul Aziz Bhalia, Arshad Bhalia and Shahid Bhalia along with general manager Muhammad Mansoor and gatekeepers Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mahmood and Ali Muhammad — were charged under Sections 302, 322, 435, 436, 337 and 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The accused are currently on bail, while a man identified as Shahrukh has been mentioned as an absconder.
Four civil servants — then SITE managing director Abdur Rasheed Solangi, provincial labour department director Zahid Sheikh, civil defence additional controller Ghulam Akbar and chief inspector Amjad Ali — were also ordered to be booked in the case for alleged criminal negligence by a judicial magistrate. However, they were granted a stay by the Sindh High Court.
Neither the IO nor the prosecution lawyer mentioned the recently unearthed joint interrogation team report about the incident during the hearing. According to this report, submitted by the Rangers to the SHC, the fire was an arson attack by members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
According to the Baldia Factory Fire Association, the death toll of the inferno has risen to 260 after a girl, identified as Nadia, recently succumbed to injuries sustained in the fire.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2015.
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