KARACHI/LARKANA: Sindh Minister for Industries Abdul Rauf Siddiqi resigned from the provincial cabinet on Friday after he found himself “helpless and with no authority to move against the people responsible for the deadly Karachi factory fire”.
He claimed he had come forward ‘voluntarily with a gesture’ to negate a perception that Pakistan’s lawmakers and ministers never quit office after a tragic accident.
“The two key institutions — civil defence and the labour department — which are responsible for safety measures and labour rights are not under my authority and I was compelled to see people dying in the fire,” he said.
“I also demanded half-a-million rupee compensation for families of each victim by the factory owner as a penalty, but no-one paid any heed to my demand.”
He said he had resigned only to make the judicial investigation transparent and to present himself for any accountability.
“I decided on my own about the resignation and conveyed the decision to party leader Altaf Hussain who appreciated the move and left it to my own will,” he added.
The Coordination Committee of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement later praised Mr Siddiqi’s gesture and termed it an example for others.
Meanwhile a single-judge bench of the Larkana branch of the Sindh High Court granted seven days’ protective bail to the owner of the Ali Enterprise, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, and his two sons Arshad Abdul Aziz and Shahid Abdul Aziz in the sum of Rs500,000 each on Friday.
At least 258 workers were killed in a fire in the factory, the country’s worst industrial disaster. The owner and his sons were represented in the court by lawyer Aamir Mansoob Qureshi and they were present in the court.
Granting the bail, Justice Syed Hassan Azhar Rizvi directed applicants to furnish the surety bonds to the satisfaction of the Additional Registrar of the court and asked them to join the investigation on Saturday morning.
In the event of the applicants failing to appear before the court concerned within the stipulated period, the surety bonds would be forfeited without further notice, the order said.
The applicants were also ordered to submit their passports to the Nazir of the court at the principal seat in Karachi within two days. The applicants’ lawyer said that the passport of Shahid Abdul Aziz was with the UK embassy. The judge directed the applicant to provide the passport number and receipt issued by the UK embassy and the original to the Nazir of the court in Karachi within two days.
The court directed the Director of Immigration, FIA, not to allow the applicants to leave the country.
Talking to journalists outside the court building after getting the protective bail, Shahid Abdul Aziz Bhaila and Arshad Abdul Aziz said they wanted to be part of the investigation to help the court to ascertain facts and the causes of the factory fire.
They said they wanted to know why and how the incident happened.
They claimed that as soon as they were informed about the incident, they rushed to the factory and asked the staff to evacuate all workers by using all available means.
Mr Arshad Aziz ducked a question about an alleged ‘extortion’ demand and said it was an open secret in Karachi that “every factory owner faces threats in the city and we have created certain ‘barriers’ to take care of such threats”.
“We will prove our innocence in the court and stand by victims,” he asserted, adding that they were ready to pay compensation to all victims in accordance with laws. We will also bear all expenses of the injured workers.”
Arshad Aziz said that fire brigade engines had arrived at the factory one and a half hours late. “If these fire brigade vehicles had reached within 15 to 20 minutes, we would have averted much of the losses.”
He also claimed that factory gates were not closed, saying “we are still unsure about the cause of the fire. We tried to extinguish the fire with fire extinguishers and the fire brigade vehicles which arrived late stood at the main gate and despite all requests used only one nozzle of the vehicle to fight the fire.”
In a late-night development, dozens of members of the victims’ families gathered outside the building and attempted to storm the haunted factory, which had been sealed by police on Thursday night. They blamed authorities for wrapping up the operation in haste and said there was still the possibility of human remains left inside.
A large number of policemen restricted the entry of dozens of charged protesters who had broken open the iron gate. The situation forced police authorities and local leaders of a political party to intervene and pacify the protesters.
“A few of them believed that some people could be still alive inside the factory and some of them said that the bodies of their loved ones were still inside,’ said SP Site Town Zafar Malik.
“There are still dozens of unidentified bodies in hospitals’ mortuaries and we advised them to look for their loved-ones among the bodies and cooperate with hospital administrations which are conducting DNA sampling to ascertain their identity but they did not pay heed to our requests.”
Finally, he said, 10 protesters were taken inside the building under the police supervision.
”They found nothing there and finally went to their homes,” the Site Town SP said.