There are 17 unmarked graves on the outskirts of Karachi. They have not been identified three years after the harrowing incident that claimed the lives of 259 workers in a garment factory in Baldia Town.
The mystery of the 17 victims is unlikely to be resolved. Neither is the case. The decomposed bodies of the 17 victims were buried unidentified five months after the tragedy. The case has lingered on, with the culprits unidentified much like the victims.
Such is the irony with regards to the country’s worst industrial disaster that the investigation has yet to determine whether it was an intentional act of sabotage or an accident.
Over 250 workers perished inside the locked premises of the Ali Enterprises, in Baldia on September 11, 2012. Three years on, three investigation reports later, the case is still directionless. Initially, the case was registered by incorporating sections of premeditated murder against the factory owners, manager and other employees for their alleged negligence in managing the evacuation process during the fire and not providing a safe exit.
The factory owners were granted bail by the Sindh High Court on February 2013 as the police recommended dropping murder charges against them. The owner’ sons, Shahid Abdul Aziz Bhaila and Arshad Abdul Aziz Bhaila, were ordered to be released against a surety of Rs200,000 each along with factory manager, Muhammad Mansoor, and watchman, Arshad Mehmood.
The high court had constituted a commission, headed by Justice (Retd) Rehmat Hussain Jaffery, to distribute compensation pledged by the prime minister, the chief minister, factory owners, local administration and the German buyer of the ill-fated factory’s products, M/s KIK. The compensation payments were made following a series of hearings in the high court.
Luckily or otherwise, the second investigation report was not accepted by the trial court as a state-appointed prosecutor opposed the investigation officer’s view, calling it an ‘act of favouring the suspect’.
The hearings continued, however, sometimes inching forward while at other times, simply being adjourned, with the number of witnesses swelled to more than thousand.
It was assumed that the framing of charges was just a few steps ahead when a new revelation surfaced that put the case on yet another trajectory.
A report, which was submitted to the high court by the Sindh Rangers, said it was a planned terror activity caused by some key figures belonging to a major political party. It quoted an under-trail prisoner, who later mysteriously went missing. But, the trial court was never informed of this.
This March, a new team was formed to investigate the case afresh. Officials said it has to yet complete the task. At the last hearing, the only information that was submitted to the court was that investigations were still underway as some prime suspects had fled the country.
However, hope is still alive as the investigators have pledged they will confirm the cause of the incident by October 3.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2015.