KARACHI: The report of a joint investigation team submitted to the Sindh High Court by a Rangers official blaming the Muttahida Qaumi Movement for the horrifying Baldia Town factory fire was not brought on record during a sessions court hearing on Saturday.
The JIT report was submitted to the SHC on Feb 6. It quoted Rizwan Qureshi as disclosing that a deliberate arson attack had been carried out by the MQM on the factory over non-payment of protection money.
On Saturday, the case was fixed before Additional District and Sessions Judge (west) Naushaba Kazi for the supply of prosecution papers to the suspects as required under Section 265-C (supply of statements and documents to accused) of the criminal procedure code.
However, the investigating and prosecuting agencies as well as the complainant side did not bring the JIT report on record of the trial court even on Saturday.
The court came down heavily on the investigation officer (IO) of the case for failing to file statements of witnesses in the case.
IO Jahanzeb informed the court that there were around 950 prosecution witnesses in the case and he had yet to record the statements of many of them under Section 161 (examination of witnesses by police) of the CrPC.
The judge expressed displeasure over the inordinate delay on the part of the IO to furnish the documents and asked him to complete the statements of witnesses and file them in the court on Feb 21.
Factory owner Abdul Aziz Bhaila, his two sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila,
general manager Mansoor and three gatekeepers have been booked in the tragic incident that claimed the lives of more than 250 factory workers.
All the suspects have been granted bail.
The Sindh High Court had earlier asked the trial court to decide the case within a year as the case has yet to reach the stage of indictment, while the removal of premeditated murder charge from a supplementary charge-sheet has also not yet been decided.
According to the prosecution, the multi-storey factory building in Baldia Town was engulfed by a devastating fire that left over 250 workers dead on the evening of Sept 11, 2012.
While all the suspects are on bail, the then SITE managing director Abdul Rasheed Solangi, labour director Zahid Gulzar Shaikh, additional controller (civil defence) Ghulam Akbar and chief inspector (electrical) Amjad Ali, who were to be booked in the case for their alleged negligence, got a stay order from the SHC against the judicial magistrate order.
The IO had twice charge-sheeted the factory owners and others in interim and final charge-sheets under various sections, including sections 302 (premeditated murder) and 322 (qatl-bis-sabab), of the Pakistan Penal Code. The court admitted both investigation reports for hearing.
But the IO had shown the four officials innocent in a supplementary charge-sheet filed earlier in 2013 and subsequently removed the premeditated murder charge against the other suspects.
However, the fate of the supplementary charge-sheet still hung in the balance, because a special public prosecutor opposed the removal of the premeditated murder charge and argued that the IO filed it without her permission.
A case was lodged under Sections 302, 322, 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage etc.), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc.), 337 (shajjah) and 34 (common intention) of the PPC at the Site-B police station.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2015