• IGP says victims’ heirs didn’t approach police to lodge FIRs
• Court directs registration of separate cases for each victim
• Bench calls for removal of all ‘incompetent’ officials

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Tuesday directed the inspector general of police (IGP) to lodge FIRs and conduct a proper investigation into the deaths of 18 people from inhaling toxic emissions in Keamari.

A two-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Ahmed Ali M. Shaikh and Justice Yousuf Ali Sayeed also directed the provincial authorities and police chief to remove incompetent officials and depute a senior police officer to probe the deaths.

The court also expressed annoyance over police and local administration for not having conducted the post-mortem of the deceased and reluctance to lodge criminal cases.

When the bench took up a set of petitions about recent deaths in Keamari as well as around 15 death in the same vicinity in 2020 for hearing, IGP Ghulam Nabi Memon, Keamari deputy commissioner Mukhtiar Ali Abro and other officials were in attendance.

The bench expressed its surprise over the disposal of a case under A-class — meaning the accused persons are unknown or untraceable — related to deaths in Keamari in 2020.

The chief justice asked the IGP about the number of exact deaths in Keamari, to which he replied that a total of 18 people died in the area.

When the CJ asked as to why FIRs were not lodged, the IGP submitted that victims’ relatives did not approach the police for the registration of cases.

The chief justice observed that it was the responsibility of the SHO cornered to lodge an FIR on behalf of the state instead of waiting for the aggrieved persons.

The court observed that the reasons behind the deaths could not be determined without proper investigations.

The bench also deplored the performance of the police after it was informed that no autopsy was conducted.

The court questioned the level of investigation where despite 18 deaths not a single post-mortem was carried out.

The chief justice also berated the Keamari DC Abro and remarked that he must not be on such a post since he was apparently unaware of the incident.

The DC claimed that only three deaths took place within the jurisdiction of Keamari and none of them died from toxic gas.

He further submitted that they approached the legal heirs of the deceased to identify their graves, but they were unwilling to share information.

The chief justice said that the IGP had already confirmed 18 deaths and expressed displeasure over Mr Abro for repeatedly interrupting during the proceedings.

A lawyer informed the bench that some factories were sealed in connection with the deaths, but the DC had them unsealed.

The chief justice directed the IGP to approach the legal heirs of every victim and lodge FIRs for the death of each person, and the same must be investigated by a senior police officer not below the rank of SSP.

Adjourning the hearing till Feb 20, the bench warned that strict action would be taken if someone tried to conceal the facts.

Last week, the SHC registrar had placed a report before the chief justice regarding recent deaths and the chief justice had converted the report into a constitutional petition and fixed it for hearing today along with some other petitions about an identical incident of 2020.

After the hearing, IGP Memon told the media that police were taking steps to enhance the strength of investigators.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2023

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