Baldia factory fire case: Trial court not informed about new JIT

Defendant's lawyer asks court to halt proceedings until report of new investigation.

Zubair Ashraf March 21, 2015
The Baldia factory fire erupted on September 11, 2012, and claimed the lives of more than 250 factory workers. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The Baldia factory fire case has seen its fair share of dramatic revelations and twists. Recently, the Sindh government ordered the constitution of a new joint investigation team to probe the incident. The trial court has, however, been kept in the dark by the prosecution regarding these developments.

The district West court was asked by the counsel representing the accused factory owners on Saturday to stop the proceedings of the case until the new JIT formed under the Rapid Response Force chief, DIG Aftab Pathan, furnished its report.

The judge responded, however, that the court was not informed about any such development yet. She then questioned the newly-appointed special public prosecutor, Chaudhry Arshad Gill, if he had any such information. He replied in the negative. "I have only heard about it," he said. The investigation officer of the case, SI Jahanzeb, also said that a new JIT had been formed.

The team to re-investigate the Baldia fire tragedy in which more than 250 people were burned alive was formed recently on the orders of the provincial government after the unearthing of a JIT report, accusing workers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement for the catastrophe.

Besides these arguments, the judge once again expressed displeasure over the absence of the main accused, the factory owners Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhalia. Their counsel submitted yet another application seeking a day's exemption on health grounds. The court also supplied copies of statements to the counsel of the accused general manager of the factory, Muhammad Mansoor, who was not present at the last hearing. Since all the accused, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, his sons, Arshad and Shahid and their employees Mansoor, Fazal Ahmed, Ali Muhammad and Arshad Mehmood, have been provided copies of statements and prosecution-related documents, the next phase in the case, according to the Code of Criminal Procedure, is the framing of charges.

The indictment process seems to be taking time as the supplementary challan submitted by the IO in January 2013 has yet to be accepted. In the said challan, the section of premeditated murder was excluded from the case. Former special prosecutor Shazia Hanjrah, who resigned in mid-February citing lack of cooperation from the IO, had opposed it contending that the accused were being benefitted with the challan.

The court has, however, put the matter on the agenda for the next hearing on April 6. The defence and prosecution lawyers will argue on the admissibility of the challan. The court has also directed the prosecution lawyer to submit a report regarding the latest developments in the investigation of the case.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2015.


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