KARACHI: The Sindh High Court ruled on Tuesday that the veracity and relevance of a report prepared by a joint investigation team was to be determined by the competent forum before which it be placed, and told the trial court to decide the Baldia Town factory inferno case within a year.

While disposing of a miscellaneous application of the owners of the burnt factory seeking incorporation of the word “preferably” before the one-year time frame set by the SHC on Feb 6 for the trial court to decide the case, a division bench of the SHC headed by Chief Justice Maqbool Baqar observed that its direction regarding expeditious disposal of the case would not take away the right of the applicants to fair trial.

Also read: Rangers’ report blames MQM for Baldia factory fire

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research with some other non-governmental organisations had filed petitions for the replacement of the present investigating officer and conclusion of the trial in the factory fire case as early as possible.

On Feb 6, a JIT report was submitted to the SHC by an additional attorney general with a statement of the deputy assistant judge and advocate general of the Rangers, which revealed that an accused, Rizwan Qureshi, had disclosed that a deliberate arson attack was carried out by a faction of a political party on the factory over non-payment of protection money.

The counsel for petitioners, Faisal Siddiqui, told the bench on Tuesday that there was misunderstanding and misconception about the JIT report in the media which created an impression as if such a report had been rendered in respect of the factory fire case.

However, he argued that the report was about an illicit weapon case registered at the Artillery Maidan police station against accused Rizwan Qureshi in 2013.

The counsel told the court that such an impression was needed to be dispelled as the statement itself was based on hearsay only.

The bench observed that as rightly submitted by the petitioners’ counsel, the report was the outcome of an investigation into some other crime and was not the result of any investigation into the Baldia factory fire incident.

The conclusion drawn in the report was that Rizwan Qureshi had unanimously been declared “black” in the light of his criminal history with the recommendation that he be charge-sheeted in the cases in which he had admitted his involvement, it added.

The bench also clarified that the veracity and relevance of the JIT report should be determined by the competent forum before which it be placed for the purpose.

The court also asked the media to be careful and precise while discussing court matters.

Owner of the burnt industrial unit Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his sons Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, general manager Mansoor and some gatekeepers have been booked in the case while on the directive a magistrate then managing director of SITE Abdul Rasheed Solangi, director of the labour department Zahid Gulzar Shaikh, additional controller of civil defence Ghulam Akbar and chief inspector (electrical) Amjad Ali were also named in the case for their alleged negligence.

The case is pending trial before a sessions court, but it has yet to reach the stage of indictment as the process of supplying copies of evidence to the suspects has not been completed while the issue of removal of premeditated murder charge from one of the three charge sheets is also undecided.

A devastating fire which engulfed the multi-storey factory building in Baldia Town on the evening of Sept 11, 2012, within the jurisdiction of the SITE-B police station, had left over 250 workers dead.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2015

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