Owners, supervisor arrested in Karachi factory fire deaths case

Published September 7, 2021
Rescue workers search bodies at the site of a burnt chemical factory, in Karachi, on Aug 27. — AP/File
Rescue workers search bodies at the site of a burnt chemical factory, in Karachi, on Aug 27. — AP/File

Police have arrested the owners and a supervisor of a factory in Karachi’s Mehran Town after a local court revoked an interim pre-arrest bail granted to them in a case pertaining to the death of 16 workers in a fire in the industrial unit last month.

The fire allegedly caused by an electric short circuit engulfed the industrial unit, M/s BM Luggage, in Mehran Town on Aug 27, killing 16 workers.

Police had booked factory owner Hassan Meetha alias Ali Meetha, building owner Faisal Tariq, its three supervisors — Syed Imran Ali Zaidi, Zafar and Rehan — and watchman Syed Zarin over their alleged involvement in the manslaughter case.

A case was registered under Sections 322 (manslaughter) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Investigation against government agencies

The judge noted that the incident that claimed the lives of 16 innocent persons was not confined to the immediate cause of the fire, but to all the acts and omissions that form the basis of the eruption of fire, its spread, the absence of an escape exit, the defective structure of the building and its situation, the absence of a fire-resistive system and the lack of proper response from civil defence authorities.

The judge further observed that the fundamental elements of crime and causes of the fateful incident, the limiting of FIR and implicating only the persons having immediate connection and leaving out responsible persons for root causes of the incident would amount to injustice to the victims and the society as a whole.

He added that "from the examination of building code and relevant laws reproduced hereinabove", the authorities, who failed to discharge their functions include the Sindh Building Control Authority, labour department and inspectors, deputy commissioner concerned, Karachi Development Authority and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (Civil Defence Department). “These all are responsible for the offence and ought to be implicated, investigated and taken to the task for the alleged crime.”

On Tuesday, the bail pleas of the suspects were taken up by the District and Sessions’ Judge (East) Khalid Hussain Shahani, who recalled interim bail granted to them against a surety of Rs500,000 each on Aug 30.

Court officials told Dawn that after the judge pronounced his verdict, the suspects, who were present inside the courtroom, tried to escape, but police officials took them into custody.

Earlier, defence counsel Haseeb Jamali had argued that his client, Tariq, was only the owner of the property that he had rented out to Meetha over two years ago. He had maintained that Meetha being the factory owner was running his own business on the premises and Tariq had nothing to do with the fire incident.

Appearing on behalf of factory owner Meetha, defence counsel Hasan Sabir submitted that his client used to run the factory in Dubai with the same staff and in 2019 he relocated the factory to Karachi on the call of Prime Minister Imran Khan who had urged businessmen to bring their businesses to the country to boost the economy.

The counsel had further said that the applicant used to manufacture leather bags with the material provided by his foreign clients to whom the products (bags) were exported.

On the day of the incident, the factory was being run on a power generator because the city's power utility K-Electric (KE) had suspended electricity in the area for around 24 hours due to some repair works, the counsel pointed out.

After KE restored supply, the factory was switched from the generator and the fire might have been caused during that process, he added.

Advocate Sabir said that none of the factory exits were locked, except one door at the rooftop, only for safety reasons. He said none of the workers were present there at the time of the incident.

He had submitted that soon after the fire broke out an employee had approached two fire tenders stationed at the Brooks Chowrangi and requested firefighters to rush to the factory to put out the fire. But the fire tenders were without water that caused a delay of around three hours in initiating the rescue work.

The counsel had added that the fire had taken place before factory owner Meetha had arrived there, while other staffers, who had luckily survived the fire, were booked by the police in the present case with mala fide intentions.

Maintaining that his client was not responsible for the incident, the counsel had asked the court to grant him interim pre-arrest bail to enable him to join the investigation.

According to the FIR, the deaths took place on the upper portion of the building that allegedly lacked any emergency exit. “The factory building has been constructed in a manner that none can exit in case of emergency while no emergency alarm system was installed in it,” added the FIR.

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