The Baldia Town factory fire was not pre-meditated murder!
Is it a crime that someone in Pakistan generates Rs2 billion in annual revenues? If this said person pays taxes worth Rs20 million per year, why is he implicated under section 302, which is premeditated murder, if his factory faces an accident?
Is it fair that a person providing direct employment to 1,200 workers, translating into 1,200 families, whose factory suffers from an unanticipated fire, is sent to jail along with his gatekeeper, accountant and senior staff? Who benefits from the fact that the owners are in jail today? And what happens to the 900 workers who are depending on finances from the owner to support their families?
The owners, who are well educated engineers and doctors, have lost their own source of livelihood with this disastrous fire, along with assets worth millions that may take them the rest of their lives to rebuild and regenerate. Yet, they have been labelled criminals under a section of law that claims the accident was evidence for premeditated murder?
Not only were the owners’ bank accounts frozen, their rights to visit and assess damage at their own factory were stripped away. The factory is now sealed and 900 workers have been left jobless with nowhere to go and no one to hear their appeals.
The factory provided export material garments to international companies and vendors in Pakistan. Orders placed have now gone unattended for months with no real explanation as to what happens next because the owners themselves are unaware of their own circumstances. Today, they spend jail time and tomorrow when they enter the market again, only to be greeted by debts and breached contracts, they may have yet another financial prison to face.
Is this, inherently dual, penalty just?
What did the owners do to deserve a reprimand to this magnitude? What evidence did the police submit to prove them guilty under section 302? Had they left with their belongings and shifted their families off to some remote country? The fact that they did not open off shore accounts and that their families remained in Pakistan negates the very premise upon which section 302 and 322 may stand. The intention to cause premeditated murder would dictate premeditated plans. This however, should have itself annulled the use of these sections under the law, as there was no evidence to support any such motive, and for every crime there is a motive.
What the police and other authorities failed to describe was the purpose that the owners wished to achieve by deliberately torching their own factory. The ill-fated factory was an SA8000 approved state-of-the-art garment unit, the certification was conducted by RINA Services, an Italian company. Was the fact that a fire station situated a mere two kilometres from the fire, took over an hour to send its fire brigades to the site, taken into consideration? Was the fire department held accountable for its negligent and overtly lax attitude?
The first allegation to have been put forth was that that hydrants were closed, hence there being an acute water shortage for the fire tenders due to non-payment. But to place the blame or responsibility of that shortcoming solely on the owners would be a highly undue proposition. With no investigation facts having been revealed yet, it would be very hard for the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to maintain their enormous claim against solely the owners of the factory.
Over 250 lives were lost that day, and there is no substitute for the lives lost, but there is no justice being given the families of those people either. The owners were thrown in jail for a crime they did not commit, for negligence that was not discovered by a safety inspection team and for the incompetence of our fire departments; but no government official has been seen resigning for the human lives lost during target killings that terrorise us every day. Yet, it seems justified to put the owners of a factory, providing bread and butter to 1,200 families, into jail for a fire they could not themselves have anticipated and were reassured by experts that they were safe against?
Is this the image we want portrayed to the world? Are we trying to tell them that an unanticipated disaster in a factory in Pakistan, not only means the closure of the factory but jail time for the owner as well?
This methodology requires some logical approach to it whereby a precedence can be set. However, the current precedent being laid out not only serves the purpose of a deterrent for international businessmen wanting to invest in Pakistan, but those investors sitting abroad awaiting their delivery of goods that may never arrive due to the turbulent laws of this country. What incentives do they have left?
My simple question is; would you invest in Pakistan after what happened to the Baldia Town factory owners?
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.