KARACHI: Seemingly irked by the never-ending excuses, the district court trying the Baldia factory fire case has sought the investigation report of the case by August 1.
The judge, Naushaba Kazi, who is hearing the case of the country's worst industrial disaster that claimed the lives of 250 labourers, expressed displeasure over the delay in the submission of the report by the new investigation officer, SP Sajid Sadozai, on Saturday.
She asked Sadozai when the re-investigation of the case will be completed, to which he failed to give a time frame. Instead, he submitted two notifications pertaining to the constitution of an inquiry committee.
Sadozai was tasked to probe the case in March this year after authorities decided to re-investigate the case following the unearthing of a report that changed the trajectory of the case from an accident to a planned massacre.
The report, submitted by the Rangers to the Sindh High Court in January, quoted an under-trail prisoner as saying that the fire at Ali Enterprises was started by some members of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) over non-payment of extortion money.
Hundreds of workers, including men and women, at the garment factory were burnt to death in the blaze on September 11, 2011. Its death toll has now reached a figure of 260 after a girl, burned in the incident, succumbed to her wounds in December.
Going through the documents submitted by Sadozi, the judge observed that the 30-day time frame given to the investigating committee had expired and yet its report had not surfaced.
The judge ordered him to submit the report containing the facts they had managed to find in the meantime.
Commenting over the non-appointment of a special public prosecutor to the case, the court observed that the government had turned a blind eye towards the case.
The special public prosecutor's spot is lying vacant for the past five months as Shazia Hanjrah, a young high court lawyer, detached herself from the case citing non-cooperation from the investigation officers in February, a month after the case went embroiled in political controversies.
The judge added that the court had sent reminders to the relevant department in the past and will do so again.
During the hearing, the lawyer representing the victims said that even the accused factory owners were not bothering to appear in court and were engaging in the trail through emails only. Three factory owners - Abdul Aziz Bhalia, his sons Arshad and Shahid and their four employees have been accused for the casualties in the fire. All of them, however, are currently on bail. While another suspect, Shahrukh, who remained absconding till the commencement of trial, has recently taken pre-arrest bail from the same court.
Meanwhile, the factory owners, through their counsel, submitted to be excused from appearing before the court on health grounds, which the court accepted.
Three years on, the trial of the case has still not reached the indictment process due to the changing trajectory of investigations and stark revelations.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2015.