KARACHI: An antiterrorism court on Tuesday recorded the statement of the investigating officer of the Baldia factory fire case in which over 260 workers perished in 2012.
Nine accused including Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker Rauf Siddiqui, Abdul Rehman alias Bhola and M. Zubair alias Chariya have been charged with setting ablaze a garment factory in Baldia Town with the help of its four gatekeepers — Shahrukh, Fazal Ahmed, Arshad Mehmood and Ali Mohammad — on Sept 11, 2012.
On Tuesday, the matter was fixed before the ATC-VII judge for recording the testimony of the former IO, Inspector Jahanzeb. The court had on Sept 25 partially recorded his statement.
He deposed that a total of 264 persons were killed in the fire in the Ali Enterprises. He added that the bodies of 241 victims were identifiable, while remaining 23 were either charred beyond recognition or were merely pieces of body parts or flesh, he added.
“Some parts of two different bodies, a mobile phone and two separate shoes were also counted as one unidentified body each,” explained the IO, who was initially assigned the investigation of the incident.
He mentioned that 17 unidentified bodies were buried on the directives of the Sindh High Court while another six were buried by the Edhi Foundation — all for the want of identification.
The witness testified that the provincial home department first notified a joint investigation team headed by the DIG Crime Branch Khadim Hussain to probe the case, but it hardly held any session to proceed with the investigation. Later, the home department notified another JIT headed by DIG Aftab Pathan, which also failed to start proceedings, he added.
He said that a third JIT headed by DIG CIA Sultan Khawaja was notified, which probed the matter. He said that upon receiving the report of the JIT that contained the alleged confession of accused Rizwan Qureshi, he visited the latter’s residence in PECHS and served a notice on his wife to appear before the police for interrogation, but he never turned up.
He added that the police’s criminal record showed that Qureshi was nominated in 11 different criminal cases in which he either had been acquitted or obtained bail from the relevant court. Lastly, he obtained bail in a case pertaining to possessing an illicit weapon and fled abroad, he added.
The former IO further deposed that after the JIT completed its proceedings the police high-ups inquired as to why he had not arrested Qureshi, adding that then he tried to contact the suspect.
Inspector Jahanzeb further deposed that he also visited the residence of accused Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, the then sector in charge of the MQM’s Baldia Town, but he came to know that he had shifted to North Nazimabad from where he had further moved on to some unknown place.
He deposed that Bhola’s past criminal record also suggested that he was nominated in 11 different criminal cases, adding that his whereabouts could not be established at that time.
He mentioned that he had sent letters to Federal Investigation Agency authorities for placing names of Qureshi, Bhola and Hammad Siddiqui, the then head of the MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, on the Exit Control List and to seek their travel record.
The FIA officials verbally informed that Bhola had fled to Dubai while Siddiqui had also escaped abroad, but failed to mention his destination, he said, adding that later Bhola returned to the country, but Siddiqui was still abroad.
The witness deposed that he had also written to the FIA authorities twice about factory owners Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his sons Arshad and Shahid Bhaila to place their names on the ECL and then to remove the same at different times.
The IO said he first charge-sheeted the factory owners and others for committing premeditated murder of the factory workers, but in the second charge sheet he replaced the murder charge with manslaughter. He further deposed that initially he had arrested Majid Baig, Hanif and Mansoor, but later he released the first two and charge-sheeted Mansoor in the case.
After recording complete examination of the witness, the judge fixed Oct 9 for his cross-examination by the defence.
Previously, factory owner Arshad Bhaila had named and identified Rauf Siddiqui, Bhola, Zubair alias Chariya and four factory gatekeepers as accused.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2019