KARACHI: The Sindh government on Monday reconstituted a committee for the reinvestigation of the 2012 Baldia factory fire case by appointing a new head and including representatives of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau in it, officials said.
The officials said that the home department notified the reconstituted body that replaced additional IG Sindh police Khadim Hussain Bhatti with DIG Rapid Response Force Dr Aftab Pathan.
One of the members of the previously-notified body DIG crime branch Mushtaq Mahar had also been replaced with DIG-East Munir Sheikh, they added.
Believed to be the deadliest industrial fire in the country’s history, the Baldia factory fire had claimed more than 250 lives.
“The key point in the reconstituted committee is the inclusion of one official each from the ISI, MI and IB as members of the investigation team,” said an official, citing details of the notification issued by the Sindh home department.
The other two members of the investigation team — Colonel Sajjad Bashir of the Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, and Federal Investigation Agency Additional Director Altaf Hussain — remained unchanged, he added.
Asked about reasons behind the removal of the previous head and reconstitution of the team, the official said that Sindh police chief Ghulam Hyder Jamali took the decision after the media reported that its previous head, additional IG Khadim Hussain Bhatti, himself was facing some inquiries in the FIA.
“So he [the police chief] proposed the authorities concerned to reconstitute the team with a new head to keep its findings undisputed.
“Similarly, after recent developments in line with Karachi operation and fresh disclosure by a few suspects about the incident [Baldia Town factory fire], it was imperative to take intelligence officials also on board to come up with effective and flawless findings,” the official added.
The authorities decided to reinvestigate the Baldia Town factory fire with ‘all possibilities and angles’ after the Rangers came up with new information about the tragedy. Almost forgotten, the September 2012 tragedy hit the headlines again earlier last month when judge advocate general of the Rangers, Major Ashfaque Ahmed, filed a joint interrogation team (JIT) report of a murder suspect Rizwan Qureshi in the Sindh High Court.
According to Qureshi’s statement recorded by the JIT, the factory was set on fire after its owners failed to pay Rs200 million bhatta (extortion). The JIT report marked him as a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) activist, a fact denied by the party.
Though reconstituted, the mandate of the team would remain the same, as it had to look into the incident with “all possibilities and angles”, the official said. The team was asked to complete the investigations and come up with a final report within a month, he said.
“But the countdown of those 30 days has not yet begun,” he said, explaining that the intelligence agencies had not nominated their members of the team so far. “Once the nomination is received through the interior ministry, the team will start work to complete the job within 30 days,” the official said.
He said the new probe body would also take into account the work done by the previous team though the former would be free to set their course of investigation. “The team under the previous head had not done much as they had started the investigation on Feb 26 and were in the process of gathering initial facts when the Sindh police chief proposed to the authorities to suspend the committee,” added official.
Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2015