An Anti-Terrorism Court – which was expected to wrap up the hearing into Baldia Factory case – once again adjourned the proceedings until September 22, more than eight years after the incident.
Over 260 workers were burnt alive when the multi-storey garment factory was set on fire on September 11, 2012 in what became the deadliest industrial blaze in Pakistan’s history.
The scars of the Baldia Town Factory are still raw for the families of its victims. Let’s take an in-depth review of the incident and the proceedings, which take place during the eight years.
On 11 September 2012, a fire broke out at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Baldia Town. Initially, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) stated that the fire was an accident that started from a short circuit on the factory’s first floor, resulting in the deaths of 260 workers.
The federal agency further stated that the deaths were mainly caused by the fact that the factory did not have a functioning alarm system and had only one exit for about 1.000 workers. No effective steps were taken by the then government to address the situation.
Three years later, a team of Rangers and other investigation departments in 2015 submitted a report in Sindh High Court, which stated that the factory was set on fire by workers of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) because the factory’s owner refused to pay extortion money.
The alleged electric short circuit claim was refuted. The report stated that the earlier investigations had been conducted under pressure from the MQM which benefited from government and had criminal influences at the time.
The Factory Owner’s Stance
During a court session in Karachi, Arshad Bhalia, the owner of the factory, submitted his video statement from Dubai in which he claimed that MQM was behind this catastrophe. He identified Rehman Bhola, Zubair (Chariya) and Rauf Siddiqui as the prime suspects.
The owner said that workers of the MQM had asked him to pay either Rs250 million as extortion money or give 50 percent shares of the profit generated in the business. He said a worker in his factory named, Mansoor Qureshi was making all the deals with MQM. Arshad Bhaila told them that he was willing to pay Rs10 million instead.
The JIT Report
The Sindh government in July 2020 made three Joint Investigation Team (JIT) reports public. The three JIT reports are related to Uzair Baloch, Baldia factory tragedy, and former Fishermen Cooperative Society head Nisar Morai.
According to the JIT report of Baldia factory tragedy, the tragedy was not an accident but organized terrorism. The 27-page report revealed that the factory had been torched by MQM leaders Hamad Siddiqui and Rehman Bhola over non-payment of Rs200 million as extortion money.
The report also pointed out the irresponsibility of the police forces which seemed to be hiding the real characters involved in the mass killing of innocent people.
The report further said that the JIT had imposed sanctions against Rehman Bhola, Hamad Siddiqui, Zubair, four unidentified accomplices while Umar Hassan Qazi, Dr. Abdul Sattar, Ali Hassan Qadri and a woman Iqbal Adib Khanum under Pakistan and terrorism provisions.
“The prime characters in the terrorism incident should be brought back from the foreign country besides including them in Exit Control List (ECL) and seizure of their passports,” the report added.
The Current Situation
Anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi adjourned the proceedings until September 22. The court reserved the verdict in the high-profile Baldia Factory case expected today and will announce it next week. Ten people including then Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) minister Rauf Siddiqui are accused in the incident.
The ATC judge was expected to conclude the trial today (Thursday) since the recording of evidence and testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, statements of the accused persons and final arguments from the special public prosecutor and defence counsel for the accused had almost been completed.
However, during today’s hearing, the public prosecutor submitted to the court the list of victims who received compensation from the government and a foreign buyer of Ali Enterprises’ products.