KARACHI: A sessions court issued on Saturday a warrant for the arrest of an investigating officer (IO) over his absence in the Baldia factory fire case.

The owner of the industrial unit, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, and his two sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, general manager Mansoor and three gatekeepers have been booked in connection with the tragic incident in which over 250 workers were burnt alive.

On the previous hearing, the court had asked investigating officer Jahanzeb to complete the statements of witnesses and submit in court on Feb 21 when he informed the court that there were around 950 prosecution witnesses in the case and he had yet to record the statements of many witnesses under Section 161 (examination of witnesses by police) of the criminal procedure code.

When the case came up for hearing before additional district and sessions judge (west) Naushaba Kazi on Saturday, the IO did not turn up. The court issued a non-bailable warrant for the arrest of the IO through the provincial police officer till March 7 and asked the police high-ups to stop his salary.

Advocate Shazia Hanjra appeared before the court and informed it that she had stepped down as special public prosecutor in the case. She dissociated herself from the case on Feb 17 for what she described as ‘non-cooperation of the IO’.

All the suspects are on bail and the Bhalia brothers did not attend the court hearing on Saturday and sent applications through their counsel for condoning their absence on medical grounds while their father had already been exempted from in-person appearance.

Although the IO appeared before the court after the matter was adjourned and tried to justify his late arrival for what he described as bad health, the court asked him to turn up on the next hearing since his warrant had already been issued.

The suspects have not been indicted yet as the process of supplying prosecution papers as required under Section 265-C (supply of statements and documents to accused) of the CrPC is still not completed.

The case took a dramatic turn when a report prepared by a joint investigation team in 2013 was submitted in the Sindh High Court on Feb 6, which revealed that a suspect, Rizwan Qureshi, said that he was a worker of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and added that an arson attack was allegedly carried out by some party workers on the factory over non-payment of protection money.

However, the SHC ruled on Feb 10 that the veracity and relevance of the JIT report shall be determined by a competent forum before which the same may be placed for such purpose and also asked the trial court to decide the case within one year. The JIT report has yet to be brought on the record of the trial court.

According to the prosecution, a devastating fire engulfed the multi-storey garment factory building in Baldia Town on the evening of Sept 11, 2012 and left over 250 workers dead.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2015

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