KARACHI, Jan 28: The Sindh High Court on Monday issued notices to the principal secretary of the prime minister, the Sindh chief secretary and others in a petition against the removal of the murder charge on a direction of the PM against owners of the Baldia Town garment factory, where a devastating fire had claimed lives of over 250 workers.

The petition was filed jointly by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research, the Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum, the National Trade Union Federation, the Hosiery Garments Textile and General Workers Union, Javed Iqbal Burki and Syed Ammad Bin Tahir.

The petitioners, represented by Advocates Faisal Siddiqui and Waseem Iqbal Malik, also impleaded the home secretary, the provincial police chief, the director-general of the Sindh Building Control Authority, the Sindh labour secretary, secretary of the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, the Regional Inspection and Certification Agency (pvt) Limited, RINA Services of Italy and the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency as respondents.

A division bench headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar issued notices to all respondents and put off the hearing to Feb 14.

The petitioners stated that the Baldia factory fire incident was one of the biggest industrial tragedies in the country’s history and sought the court’s directions so that such industrial tragedies could be avoided in future.

They submitted that over 1,500 workers were employed on the three-floor building that had three exits and a main exit and it was the illegal practice of the factory owners to keep exits locked from the outside.

The petitioners submitted that the factory did not have the required fire and safety provisions, while the owners fled their unit at the time of fire and they did nothing substantial to save the lives of workers.

They stated that the prime minister in his speech to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said that “authorities should reinvestigate the case and provide justice to the employers of Ali Enterprises if they were wrongly booked in the murder case”. According to the PM, they said, no murder case was made against the factory owners.

Subsequently, the petitioners said, the investigation officer omitted the murder charge against the factory owners in the supplementary charge-sheet submitted in the trial court.

They further submitted that the RINA purportedly surveyed the factory through their local partner, RI&CA, and issued a certificate less than three weeks before the tragedy.

They pointed out that the SITE issued various notices to the factory owners for violation of building rules and regulations.

The petitioner stated that the KMC also pointed out certain violations of fire and safety rules in the factory.

They said that the provincial labour department also confirmed violations of various labour laws in the factory, while, according to it, the factory was not even registered with the directorate of labour.

Besides, the petitioner said, the tribunal of inquiry also earmarked various labour and other legal violations at the factory as the primary cause of the high death toll and recommended that immediate action be taken for the enforcement of labour and building laws.

They said that it was important to note that even the European Union Parliament passed a strongly worded resolution in regard to the fire tragedy and there was an imminent danger that Pakistani exporters might be subjected to anti-labour sanctions from the international community if no action was taken on this issue.

The petitioners prayed to the court to declare that the statement and directions of the prime minister in favour of the accused factory owners amounted to an interference in the criminal prosecution and trial.

They prayed to the court to permanently restrain the police and other authorities from taking any action on the basis of the prime minister’s direction regarding the trial of the accused factory owners.

The petitioners further prayed to the court to direct the SBCA, KMC, SITE, labour department and other respondents to take action against the factory owners for violations of labour, building and environment laws.

They also requested the court to direct the provincial authorities to acquire the land of factory for construction of a rehabilitation and community centre for the families of the victims, injured and displaced workers of the gutted factory and to use the compensation money to be paid for such an acquisition for the construction and running of such rehabilitation and community centre.

Order reserved on bail pleas Justice Ghulam Sarwar Korai reserved his order on the bail applications of the owners production manager, and watchman of the Baldia garment factory.

Police had arrested Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila after a sessions court rejected their pre-arrest bail applications on Oct 6, 2012, while their ailing father, Abdul Aziz Bhaila, was granted bail due to old age.

Special Public Prosecutor Shazia Hanjra submitted that the police had recorded statements of 830 witnesses, all of whom testified that the exit doors of the factory were closed.

She submitted that the factory owners were nominated in the FIR (343/2012) registered at the SITE-B police station under Sections 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage etc), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc), 337 (Shajjah), 322 (punishment for qatl-bis-sabab), 302 (premeditated murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

However, she said, the investigation officer on his own had excluded Section 302 of the PPC from the last submitted charge-sheet in the case.