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MLOs assume suffocation as cause of blaze deaths

KARACHI, Sept 26: The medico-legal officers of two major public hospitals on Wednesday surprised the Baldia factory fire inquiry tribunal by claiming that they could only ‘assume’ the cause of over 250 deaths in the absence of a chemical examination facility in the city.

Apparently, most of the victims died from suffocation caused by carbon monoxide that filled the factory before the fire badly burnt them, the doctors deposed.

“A total of 70 bodies were brought to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre,” said JPMC MLO Dr Jagdeesh Kumar. “Most of them were charred beyond recognition. Our assessment is that they mostly died from suffocation after their workplace was filled with carbon monoxide.”

At this point, additional secretary (home) Khalilur Rahman Sheikh, who has been assisting the tribunal, headed by retired justice Zahid Qurban Alvi, intervened and raised a question about the ‘assessment’ of the medico-legal section and details of bodies’ autopsies.

“We don’t have any facility required for an ideal medico-legal examination that includes a chemical examination laboratory. We have compiled reports mainly as per our assessment and experience that suggested suffocation as the cause of death due to carbon monoxide,” Dr Kumar replied.

His account was corroborated by Dr Abdul Haq of the Civil Hospital Karachi who claimed that autopsy of several bodies was conducted and majority of the bodies were not identifiable though a few had minor burns injuries.

“In fact when the fire burns rubber, it generates carbon monoxide and it seems that there were sizable stocks of rubber or its byproducts that created such thick and heavy smoke,” the MLO added.

The tribunal sounded annoyed over consistent ‘non-cooperation’ of the Sindh police forensic division when at a point Justice Alvi said it seemed the facts were being deliberately concealed from the probe body.

Earlier, Inspector Shahid Hasan Khan of the forensic division appeared before the tribunal. But he said: “I can’t comment on the subject as the officers engaged with this case are busy in other assignments and the high-ups of our division are abroad to attend a conference.”

Justice Alvi remarked, “The forensic division is of no use. It’s so disappointing and unfortunate that the forensic people are so casual and least interested in such a sensitive case that revolves around the mystery of more than 250 deaths.”