KARACHI: Five siblings, all less than 10 years of age and hailing from Balochistan, died while their mother and aunt fell ill apparently due to food poisoning shortly after arriving here at Qasr-i-Naz, a federal lodge near State Guest House, from Quetta on Thursday night.
The deaths prompted the authorities to seal the two restaurants that delivered the food as well as the guest room, kitchen and store of the official lodge on Friday when samples were collected for analysis to ascertain the possibility of food poisoning and to determine the exact cause of death. In all, 32 men were detained from the three places for questioning, according to officials.
After collection of samples and initial investigations, the bodies were flown to Quetta for burial, while their mother who was discharged from hospital after being given first aid left for the city along with her husband Faisal Kakar. The sister of Mr Kakar, Bina, was admitted to the Aga Khan University Hospital. The deceased were identified as 18-month-old Abdul Ali, Uzair, 4, Alia, 6, Tauheed, 7 and their eldest sister Salwa, 9.
DIG South Sharjeel Kharal told Dawn that the family of Mr Faisal comprising his wife, sister, two daughters and three sons had arrived from Quetta on Thursday night. On their way, he said, they had lunch at a friend’s house in Khuzdar. Later, he added, they purchased chips and packed juices from a shop in Hub.
After arriving at Qasr-i-Naz lodge where they had booked a room with the reference of a senior official of Pakistan Works Department in Quetta, they placed an order at a restaurant near the Passport Office in Saddar for biryani at 12.15am, the officer said. Hours after having biryani, Mr Faisal’s wife Nida fell unconscious and she was taken to the hospital. She was discharged after being provided initial treatment. “As the couple returned, they saw their two children lying dead in the room and other children and their aunt terribly sick. The three children also died while being shifted to hospital, while their aunt was admitted,” said SSP South Pir Mohammad Shah.
Talking to the media outside Qasr-i-Naz, SSP Shah was of the opinion that this was a clear case of food poisoning. However, DIG Kharal said, as investigation was under way, other aspects were also being looked into.
On Friday noon, the bodies of the five siblings were brought at Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi to complete medico-legal formalities. Additional police surgeon Dr Qarar Ahmed told Dawn that they collected viscera and samples to be sent to the chemical examiner’s lab to ascertain the possibility of poison in their body to determine the exact cause of death.
Sindh Minister for Local Bodies Saeed Ghani met the victims’ relatives at the AKUH after which he confirmed to the media that the food authority officials had sealed the restaurant and opened investigations.
Police also sealed a famous eatery which supplied biryani to the restaurant, and detained 32 people from the two restaurants and Qasr-i-Naz where the family had stayed, DIG Kharal said. He further said CCTV footage of all three places had been obtained to investigate any foul play in the episode.
DIG Kharal said the body viscera of the deceased siblings would be sent to a laboratory in Lahore on Saturday (today) to ascertain exact cause of death. Dr Shakeel Ahmed of the HEJ Research Centre told Dawn that they collected 11 samples,which included vomit, clothes, powder, blankets and floor from their room in Qasr-i-Naz. Sindh Food Authority DG Amjad Leghari said they would send the food samples to official technical lab in Korangi.
The DIG said the police investigators were finding out whether fumigation had been carried out at the lodge and for how long the room in Qasr-i-Naz remained closed after it. He said he had approached police officers in Khuzdar and Lasbela for investigation.
Meanwhile, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan expressed his grief over the death of the five children belonging to the Khanozai area of Pishin district.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2019