The Baldia Town factory fire was not pre-meditated murder!

Published: November 2, 2012

Their basic visitation rights, being the owners, were stripped away when their factory was sealed, not allowing them to visit their own factory. PHOTO: REUTERS

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?

Ansar Mehdi

Ansar Mehdi

An MBA in marketing, Ansar works as a general manager in an export oriented firm.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Noman Ansari

    Brilliant blog. I was thinking the same. We are so easy to want blame someone. It is absolutely horrible what happened to the factory workers, but spare a thought for the factory owners. They did not intend to kill someone.

    We as a nation are barbaric witch hunters. Tragedy happened, and now someone must pay with blood. Recommend

  • AF

    The factory owners are liable for manslaughter but not for a murder. In murder “mens rea” i.e. intention to kill the person is required. the factory owners did not intend or wanted to kill the employees they died due to accident caused by irresponsibility of the owners who didnt take necessary precautions to save their staff in case of any catastrophe or any mishap.

    According to Black Law Dictionary

    Accidental killing. Homicide resulting from a lawful act performed in a lawful manner under a reasonable belief that no harm could occur. – Also termed death by misadventure; homicide by misadventure; killing by misadventure; homicide per infortunium.

    The unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought.

    Involuntary manslaughter. Homicide in which there is no intention to kill or do grievous bodily
    harm, but that is committed with criminal negligence or during the commission of a crime not included within the felony-murder rule.Recommend

  • Ahsan

    I totally agree with the auhtor. The owners are not the one to blame. No body knows how hard they worked to get this factory running. No one knows how hard it is to get orders from different countries. Almost 900 homes were affiliated with this factory. It is not only difficult to work here in Pakistan but its now becoming almost impossible due to the circumstance of the city (Karachi) and the whole country. Its not only the terrorists who are harming these industries but the government it self is to be blamed. “Bhatta Khori” is being done on daily basis in these industrial areas. No devolopment in any sector being done. I request all the people who are blaming the factory owners should pay a visit once to SITE area Karachi which is the main Trading hub of Karachi. Believe it or not but there are no roads in SITE are. This is the same place from where we generate half of our revenue. Who is to be blamed? The government I say. Recommend

  • Kanwal

    I do not believe the idiocity of this article. Dear author, if you spend a few minutes looking at the above picture of the factory, you will realise why they were charged with such a serious offense. you have conveniently avoided the findings of the investigations presented before the court so far (widely reported in the media so how could the author miss it?). I can not fathom why someone earning billions would permanently block the fire exit, would register many times more workers than shown on record, would build a building like above as workplace for the poor workers and so on? with lots of benefits comes lots of responsibility too. They committed a crime that does deserve death sentence. just because they earn millions, you cant let the gangsters get away with workers in conditions that led to more than 250 burnt-to-death workers. And ET should be ashamed to let such a biased article. I remember an ex Chamber of Commerce president coming to defense of the owners in the days after this accident. Public comments promptly took care of that guy though. Recommend

  • Kiran Gadit

    Dear Kanwal , you are misinformed very much. Till today investigation is not completed by police. The police registered the case with malaise to implicate the owners.
    The only evidence they have is witnesses who have been tortured and harassed by police to falsely implicate the owners to extract money. You can review Dawn newspaper of 10th October, where the witnesses have testified in front of judge that they were forced to give false statements under life threat by high police officials. They were illegally detained by police for 24 days. The witnesses names are Majeed and Zubair.

    As for your contention that court has proved them guilty is not possible as trial can only start after investigation is complete.

    And for your information the 2 owners are still in jail custody since 6th october.

    As for the congestion, my dear friend this factory was one of the few in Pakistan who have SA8000 certification. This is the internationally recognized certification, without this the European customers wills not procure garments from this factory. Who would be so stupid to ruin his business like this.

    And as far as media is concerned, u r mature enough to know how biased it is and how it falsify things

    Hope that satisfies your question

    Best RegardsRecommend

  • Yousuf

    Firstly, it was a great human loss which cannot reversed at any cost.
    But we must watch all the dimensions of this incident, the role of regulators, those who approved the factory building plans which is SITE Ltd, the fire brigade and rescue services, and mishandling at police investigation stage.
    You can review news papers of 10th October (Dawn newspaper) which shows how police are torturing and threatening workers of affected factory to testify against the owners just to prove the case made by police is correct. The witnesses testified before court the real situation on site of fire and police attitude with them.
    And for the investiagation, it is not yet complete and police is regularly asking for time extension without any progress report to court (Express Tribune 3rd Nov).
    How a person or entity can do such and act without ant benefit to him….Recommend

  • Ashraf

    It is totally unacceptable what the owners are going through do u think some ind will burn own factory for which they are not fully insured and after that stay in country if they are guilty ???? This is case merely a issue of politics extortion and bully !!! Political party bullying some one for not agreeing to pay or do what they were told to do !!!! Recommend

  • Uzma

    I can just only add on basis my personal studies and understanding, this all is due to our corrupt police system, they (our police) feel themselves walking on the clouds, they nominated the Owners, they suspected the owners, they convicted the owners and now the owners are behind the bars, so case is solved…….now they are for sure would be waiting for the Price to be announced for solving the case so fast……..we all should admit it that we all are victims of this Police Gardi from KP to Sind….Recommend