MORE than four months after the Baldia Town factory fire in Karachi killed over 250 people, the tragedy is in the news again, and not necessarily for the right reasons. On Thursday, the prime minister’s press secretary denied that Raja Pervez Ashraf had ordered the murder charge against the factory owners to be dropped. He said the prime minister had merely wanted a “reinvestigation” into what is indeed one of the world’s worst industrial tragedies. Yet the denial has not stopped a hardening of postures, with industrialists pitted against those rightly concerned about labour rights. Seen as defenders of the capitalist class, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry insists there is no justification for registering a case of murder against the owners of Ali Enterprises and that what led to the calamity was negligence on the owners’ part. In fact, the KCCI chief insisted, it was “an accident”. The Awami Workers’ Party, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education Research, a group of lawyers and some NGOs have reacted angrily to the purported move to drop the mur-der charges. They claim that the change in the nature of charges would amount to a miscarriage of justice.
However, looking at it from society’s point of view, what matters is the need for avoiding a repetition of such calamities and protecting workers’ lives and labour rights throughout Pakistan. This also means the government should not act in a way that raises suspicions about its motives. The factory management had not bothered to enforce even rudimentary safety measures, and the relevant government departments had discontinued visits to check working conditions. The factory was not even registered with the Sindh Labour Department, and it is surprising that an Italian company should have given a certificate to the factory on all counts. We hope that the denial by the prime minister’s office is not a sham. As the country’s chief executive, he should ensure the prosecution of the guilty — even if they happen to be resourceful tycoons — the payment of compensation to the victims’ families and, above all, an overhaul of the inspection mechanism to prevent similar tragedies.