KARACHI: A sessions court asked on Saturday a prosecutor to inform it whether reinvestigation was ordered into the Baldia factory fire case after the defence moved an application to stop the proceedings.
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 the tragic incident in which over 250 workers were burnt alive in September 2012.
When the case came up for hearing before additional district and sessions judge (west) Naushaba Kazi on Saturday, one of the defence lawyers moved an application asking the court to stop the proceedings since the case was being reinvestigated.
However, the public prosecutor said that he was unaware of any reinvestigation. The court asked the prosecutor to find out whether the case was being reinvestigated and inform it on the next hearing.
The court expressed its displeasure after it was informed that the Bhaila brothers did not turn up yet again and sent applications through their counsel for condonation of their absence on the ground that they were abroad.
The court asked the defence counsel to ensure the presence of their clients on the next date and adjourned the hearing till April 6 to hear arguments about the fate of a supplementary charge-sheet.
All the suspects were on bail while Aziz Bhaila was also exempted from in person appearance.
On a previous hearing, the supply of prosecution papers as required under Section 265-C (supply of statements and documents to accused) of the criminal procedure code was made to the suspects, but the case has yet to reach the stage of indictment as the court has to decide the fate of supplementary charge-sheet first.
According to the prosecution, a devastating fire engulfed the multi-storey garment factory building in Baldia Town on the evening of Sept 11, 2012 that had left over 250 workers dead.
A judicial magistrate had ordered that the then MD 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. Later, the suspects challenged the order before the high court.
The IO had twice charge-sheeted the owners and others in the interim and the final charge-sheets under Section 302 (premeditated murder), 322 (manslaughter) and other sections of the Pakistan Penal Code and the court admitted both investigation reports for hearing.
But in a supplementary charge-sheet filed earlier in 2013, the IO had shown the four officials innocent and also removed Section 302 of the PPC against the other suspects.
However, the fate of the supplementary charge-sheet still hung in the balance since a prosecutor opposed the removal of premeditated murder charge and said that the IO filed it without her permission.
Moreover, the case took a dramatic turn when a report prepared by a joint investigation team in 2013 was submitted in the Sindh High Court during the hearing of a petition about the present case on Feb 6, which revealed that Rizwan Qureshi, who was arrested in an illicit weapon case in June 2013, disclosed that the factory was set on fire after its owners failed to pay protection money. The JIT report marked him as a worker of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a charge vehemently denied by the party.
On Feb 10, the SHC ruled that the veracity and relevance of the JIT report was to be determined by the competent forum before which it be placed, and told the trial court to decide the factory inferno case within a year.
However, the JIT report has yet to be placed before the trial while the provincial authorities have constituted a new joint investigation team to reinvestigate the case.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2015