Still hoping for justice, the survivors, victims’ families and activists on Wednesday paid homage to the 260 workers killed in the Baldia factory blaze in 2012.
While there is some movement in the case of the Baldia factory fire, in which 260 workers perished, the victims’ families wait for justice still appears to be a long one as the judicial process continues.
The workers were burnt alive when the multistorey garment factory building was set on fire in Baldia Town on Sept 11, 2012.
Nine accused — including Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker and then provincial minister for commerce and industries Rauf Siddiqui, then MQM sector in-charge Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, Zubair alias Chariya — were charged with allegedly setting ablaze the ill-fated industrial unit with the help of its four gatekeepers. Initially, owner of the factory Abdul Aziz Bhaila and his two sons, Arshad Bhaila and Shahid Bhaila, a general manager and four gatekeepers were charge-sheeted by the police for their alleged ‘negligence’.
However, the case took a new turn in February 2015 when Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, submitted a joint investigation team (JIT) report in the Sindh High Court (SHC), which revealed that the factory was set on fire after its owners failed to pay ‘protection money’.
Subsequently, the reinvestigation of the case was ordered in March 2015 through a JIT. In the meantime, the SHC directed the ATC to expedite the trial and submit a progress report of every hearing.
Later, the police through a progress report informed the trial court in March 2016 that the factory fire was a planned terrorist act and the JIT had recommended that a new case be registered under the antiterrorism law against Hammad Siddiqui, Bhola, brothers Ali Hasan Qadri and Umar Hasan Qadri, Dr Abdul Sattar, Chariya and others. However, after a lengthy reinvestigation, the police filed a supplementary investigation report in August 2016 in which they only charge-sheeted Hammad Siddiqui, Bhola and their three to four unknown accomplices and did not send the 13 other suspects, including those proposed by the JIT, for trial.
Later, the court recalled its order regarding the inclusion of the owners as accused as the prosecution said they were the key witnesses of the case.
The judicial record suggested that the investigating officer had initially listed 720 witnesses in the supplementary charge sheet, but 40 of them were later dropped.
The remaining 680 prosecution witnesses included over 300 private persons, 259 legal heirs of the victims and 56 survivors.
Hundreds of witnesses of the prosecution still to be examined by the court and it could take months to record the lengthy testimonies of the victims’ families and the survivors.
An antiterrorism court is legally bound to decide a case within seven days after indictment, according to Section 19 (7) of the Anti-Terrorism Act.