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KARACHI: A judicial magistrate on Wednesday remanded nine federal employees in police custody for one more day in a case pertaining to the death of six members of a family allegedly due to a poisonous gas in Qasr-i-Naz.

The nine federal employees — chief engineer of the Pakistan Public Works Department Nadeem Akhtar Shaikh, assistant executive engineer Zakir Hussain, overseer Mehram Ali Brohi, Qasr-i-Naz controller Sikandar Hayat, contractor Sanobar Khan, guesthouse’s caretaker Nisar Awan, waiter Sajjad Hussain, receptionist Abdul Hameed and sweeper Pervaiz Bhatti — have been booked and arrested for their alleged involvement in the incident that caused death of the six family members, including five siblings.

On Feb 22, the six members of a family died during their stay at the Qasr-i-Naz guesthouse.

On Wednesday, the investigating officer, Inspector Atiq-ur-Rehman, produced the suspects before Judicial Magistrate (South) Sibghatullah Sanghar to seek extension in their physical custody for further interrogation.

The IO submitted that the suspects worked at Qasr-i-Naz, a federal lodging facility, where the ill-fated family had stayed overnight after arriving from Pishin, Balochistan.

Initially, it was suspected that the victims died after consuming poisonous food at a famous restaurant in Saddar, he said.

However, he added that an investigation and post-mortem examinations later revealed that they died of poisoning from a commercial-grade toxic fumigant, aluminium phosphide.

A magistrate extends police remand of nine federal govt employees arrested for manslaughter for one more day

The IO said the suspects had been detained for their alleged negligence with regard to use of a fumigant meant for agricultural purposes in the guestrooms.

He mentioned that a pro forma containing 20 questions about the employees present on the day of the incident had been given to the management but it had not yet been received.

He said that the suspects were required to be further interrogated to cover other aspects of the investigation and complete legal formalities.

The IO pleaded to extend their physical remand in police custody by two weeks.

Allowing the request, the judge extended their remand in police custody for one more day with direction to the IO to produce them Thursday (today) and also submit an investigation report.

A case was registered under Sections 322 (punishment for qatl-bis-sabab, or manslaughter), 273 (sale of noxious food or drink) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code at the Preedy police station.

Phosphine detected in victims’ blood and stomach

DIG South Sharjeel Kareem Kharal told a press conference on Wednesday that the reports of laboratory tests disclosed that aluminium phosphide was found in viscera of the deceased.

He also ruled out the possibility of toxic food behind the tragedy.

“Phosphine was detected in their blood and stomachs,” he said, referring to the reports of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) and HEJ Institute at Karachi University. “Drugs/poisons were not detected.”

Quoting the PFSA report, the DIG said: “Phosphine is an extremely poisonous gas and it is widely used as an agriculture fumigant.”

He observed that the staff at Qasr-i-Naz was not supposed to use such substances for fumigation purpose as the same was meant for agriculture purpose and may be used at an open place.

Toxic chemical used for six years in Qasr-i-Naz

The DIG said that the administration of Qasr-i-Naz was allegedly using such a dangerous toxic chemical for the last six years.

“Such type of toxic chemical is not used for fumigation in houses,” he said, adding that people were not supposed to go to a place where such a chemical was used for at least 24 hours.

He said that the investigators were also probing as to who provided and purchased the hazardous substance.

The DIG pointed out that during a search of Qasr-i-Naz’s stores police had found empty bottles of aluminium phosphide.

He said that the staff of the federal government facility had allegedly tried to destroy the evidence.

The DIG said since the held suspects tried to destroy the evidence, the police had also invoked Section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) of the PPC against them.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2019