KARACHI: Counsel for the Baldia Town factory fire victims, Faisal Siddiqi, said on Friday that the much-hyped joint interrogation team’s (JIT) report was in fact about a case of possession of arms by the suspect Rizwan Qureshi.

The counsel said at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) that the report contained the suspect’s confession to the crimes he had committed and only a paragraph on the factory fire.

“The suspect accused that a political party is responsible for burning down the factory. But his statement is based on hearsay. Not once did he mention either he was a witness to [the tragic incident] or took responsibility for the fire,” said Mr Siddiqi.

He said the JIT in question was not even submitted by the Rangers. Rather they were asked to submit the report on the orders of the Sindh High Court once in 2012 and recently in January 2015. The SHC had ordered all institutions to submit information on the tragic incident, he said.

The JIT of the case submitted by the Rangers (FIR No61/2013) pertained to a case of arms possession lodged against the suspect at the Artillery Maidan police station.

This is the second press conference on the issue by a labour rights organisation during last 24 hours. The clarifications by the labour organisation came after a furore was created over the JIT report emblazoned with the suspect’s confession and allegation that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was responsible for the factory fire.

The timing of the report, say activists, reeks of “political point scoring and deviating from the real issue of safety and security measures by the factory owners.”

Executive director of Piler, Karamat Ali, said: “Three inquiries were conducted in the factory fire case. The first by a committee of police officers, the second by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the third was a judicial inquiry by a judge of SHC. All three looked into and rejected the extortion [being the prime reason behind the fire]. But the cause that came up time and again was the lack of precautionary measures at the factory.”

For instance, he said, it did not change facts on the ground that the factory’s doors were locked from outside which the management was found guilty of as it feared theft of merchandise.

Mr Siddiqi explained the current status of the case and said a murder case against the owners “is still pending”. The SHC had directed the trial court to conclude the case of the Baldia factory fire within a year, he said.

About the compensation, he said that almost all families of the fire victims were receiving pensions from the Employees Old-age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (SESSI).

He said that apart from some people, majority of the victims’ families had received Rs1.8 million as compensation over the past two years. There were also some families who had yet to receive the cheques for Rs500,000 which they could collect from the nazir at the SHC, he added.

As for the cases against German retailer, KIK, he said that the company had already paid a compensation of a million dollars to the families.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2015

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