KARACHI, May 14: Two former chiefs of the National Highway Authority with some officials and consultants were exonerated by a sessions court from charges in the Shershah bridge collapse case on Monday for want of evidence.
The then chairman of the NHA Chaudhry Altaf Ahmed and another former chairman of the NHA retired major-general Farrukh Javed, former general manager (construction) retired colonel Tahseen-ul-Haq, former member for planning Syed Najamul Hassan, chairman of the Engineering Consultants International Limited (ECIL) Zaheer Mirza and directors Khalid Mirza and Naveed Mirza, who were on bail, had moved acquittal applications under Section 265-K (power of court to acquit accused at any stage) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
The additional district and sessions judge (west), Syed Ikram-ur-Rehman, who was conducting the trial, allowed the pleas and acquitted the accused after hearing arguments from both sides.
A court official said the prosecution was unable to bring on record any solid evidence against the accused, adding that five witnesses were examined by the prosecution, but none of them specifically deposed against the accused.
Earlier, the high court acquitted a co-accused in the present case for lack of evidence and the trial court also took some assistance from it while allowing the acquittal applications, he added.
However, a detailed order, he said, had not been prepared as yet.
NHA member for operation Raja Nowsherwan and general manager (construction) Mohammed Yousaf Barakzai have already been acquitted by the high court and the trial court, respectively.
One of the defence counsel, Shaukat Hayat, was of the view that the prosecution had miserably failed to place on record any concrete evidence to establish that any unlawful act was committed on the part of the accused.
Habib Ahmed, who was appointed special public prosecutor in this case, half-heartedly opposed the pleas by submitting that the prosecution might be allowed to examine the remaining witnesses, sources said.
However, the sources said, the prosecution had almost abandoned the case when a DIG submitted a reinvestigation report in October 2010, requesting the court to acquit all the accused since no evidence was on record against them.
The then DIG (investigation) Iftikhar Hussain Tarrar submitted the report under Section 173 (report of police officer) of the CrPC through a subordinate and stated that NHA chief Chaudhry Altaf moved an application to the city police chief for reinvestigation of the case and subsequently a three-member board headed the DIG was constituted to formulate recommendations whether grounds existed for a reinvestigation.
The board unanimously recommended reinvestigation of the case by stating that the investigating officer did not consult the accused properly and submitted a charge-sheet without waiting for technical advice of experts in the alleged offence and the reinvestigation of the case was assigned to DIG Tarrrar, it added.
The report further said that the DIG thoroughly examined the record and it came on record during the reinvestigation that the design of the bridge was decided before Yousaf Barakzai took over as the project director and work on the project was started.
In the meantime, Paracha Mill got a stay order against the NHA from the Sindh High Court and the construction was halted, but later the matter was settled between the parties and the construction was restarted and no change was made in the design of the bridge, it said, adding that the NHA provided the required land to the consultants and it was proved through the record that as per the job description of the NHA the land acquisition was the responsibility of the general manager (design).
It was stated in the charge-sheet that on June 6, 2006 the then NHA chairman Farrukh Javed was informed about the recommendations of the GM (design) and a meeting was called at which a unanimous decision was taken in the presence of all relevant officials for retrofitting.
It claimed that the government made no payment to the company building the bridge and on the instructions of the member for motorway the expenses made during the construction of the bridge were also stopped, thus it caused no financial loss to the exchequer.
Without holding anyone accountable for the bridge collapse in which five people lost their lives, the investigating officer stated that during the reinvestigation the supervision staff and contractors were found innocent and, therefore, all nine officials of the NHA and the ECIL could not be charge-sheeted since no evidence came up on record against them.
It concluded that the NHA had already paid Rs1.5 million compensation each to the legal heirs of the victims and Rs500,000 each to the injured.
However, the court dismissed the report in February 2011.
According to the prosecution, a portion of the newly-inaugurated Shershah bridge built on the Northern Bypass collapsed on Sept 1, 2007.
Five people were killed in the tragic incident and 14 others injured while six vehicles were also damaged and the accused were booked in the case for their alleged negligence committed during the constriction of the bridge.
However, a case (FIR 181/2010) was registered against the officials on April 7, 2010 on the directives of the Supreme Court under Sections 322 (punishment for qatl-bis-sabab), 431 (mischief by injury to public road, bridge, river or channel), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees), 337-H (punishment for hurt by rash or negligent act) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code at the SITE police station.
The first investigating officer submitted a final charge-sheet in May 2010, which stated that the accused were held responsible by a preliminary inquiry conducted by the Prime Minister’s Inspection Team (PMIT).
The medical record of the dead and the injured was collected, statements of witnesses, including the injured, experts of the NED University, who were also member of the PMIC, were recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC.
The IO had placed 72 witnesses in the charge-sheet, but he did not charge-sheeted Raja Nowsherwan for lack of evidence.
However, the court considered that sufficient evidence was available against Nowsherwan as well and indicted him with others accused on Sept 2, 2010.