A proposal is under consideration to set up a permanent independent body to inspect factories, Justice (Retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi, the head of the tribunal probing the Baldia factory fire, said on Saturday.
“The idea was floated during recent meetings between the business community and the government,” Alvi told the media on the fifth consecutive day of the proceedings of the tribunal, which is trying to determine the cause behind the massive inferno at the factory, Ali Enterprises, and the death of 298 people in the incident.
“There should be a single law to guide or deal with the factories. At present, there are 10 or 15 laws owing to which the factory owners are confused.”
Alvi said the proposal was being actively considered in the wake of the complaints against various government inspectors that had recently resulted in the suspension of the industrial units’ inspection.
“What is unnerving for me is that smoke is still emanating from the second floor of the factory,” said the tribunal head, while sharing details about his visit to the ill-fated factory a day earlier.
“ It was also perturbing to note that as per the statements of some witnesses, the colour of the smoke on that fateful day was ‘white’ and the workers fell unconscious after inhaling it.”
Alvi said the garment factory was exporting denim products to Germany and wondered as to why safety and other requirements were not fulfilled as Germans were known to strictly follow rules.
“I have inspected the fire extinguishers present at the factory whose expiry date was November 2012.”
The tribunal chief said the evidence provided by Mansoor, who was believed to be the general manager of the Ali Enterprises, would be crucial. “However, it has been learnt that he [Mansoor] is in fact a contractor, who provided workers for two floors of the factory.”
Alvi also said some witnesses had informed the tribunal that towels were previously manufactured at the factory before it was bought by its current owners.
Amir Mansoob Qureshi, the factory owners’ lawyer, appeared before the tribunal and stated that his clients were in Islamabad and wanted to appear before it, but needed some time.
“If the tribunal wants to seek the help of foreign or independent experts to determine the cause of the fire and the death of the workers, the factory owners are willing to bear all expenditure to this effect.”
The lawyer said his clients did not trust the local investigators and their methods also left much to be desired.
“The factory owners are summoned by different probing teams and they have to record their statements several times from morning till late night.”
Qureshi assured Alvi that the factory owners would appear the tribunal on Monday and record their statements. The lawyer also moved an application seeking the statements of all the witnesses, who had appeared before the commission so far.
He said his clients’ testimony was imperative to respond to the allegations, which had been levelled by different government officials and others.
“The factory owners have all the records of inspection and registration that can be presented for verification. There should be a difference between an accused and a convicted person. My clients also need justice.”
Civil Defence Additional Controller Ghulam Akber Buriro presented before the tribunal a report on the training of factory workers by his organisation.
“Between the years 2008 and 2012, the Civil Defence has trained around 102 people for dealing with fire incidents. Around 14 people have been trained in rescue efforts and 87 to provide first aid.”
The tribunal head observed that the Civil Defence had obviously not trained a sufficient number of factory workers, as reportedly, there were 2,700 factories in SITE, where thousands of workers were employed.