A local court on Thursday acquitted industrialist Shital Vij and five others in the 2012 factory building collapse -- one of Punjab’s biggest industrial disasters -- that had claimed the lives of 23 labourers.
A four-storeyed building of a blanket manufacturing unit of Shital Fibres, owned by Vij, had collapsed on April 15, 2012.
The court also acquitted three contractors who constructed portions of the building -- local residents Sarwan Singh, Ram Singh and Hans Raj -- JCB machine operator Jagdish of Pathankot and factory superviser Ranjit Kumar of Bihar’s Saharsa district.
The Jalandhar police had registered a case against Vij and the others under sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 7, 8, 9 and 13(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act -- all non-bailable offences. Vij was arrested on April 16, 2012.
A three-member special investigation team (SIT) headed by then additional deputy commissioner of police (ADCP), headquarters, Navjot Mahal had probed the incident. The SIT concluded that Vij had no role in the building collapse, following which Section 304 of the IPC was converted into Section 304-A (causing death by negligence) and Section 120B as well as charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act were dropped. The anti-graft Act had been invoked in the wake of reports that Vij bribed officials of the industry and building branch of the civic body to get the building plans cleared.
On May 14, 2012, the chargesheet was presented in the local court against the six accused under sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of Rs 50) — all bailable sections.
Though the copy of the judgment is awaited from the court of chief judicial magistrate Deepak Chaudhary, Vij’s counsel Darshan Singh Dyal said he argued in the court that the 20-ft-deep ditch up by the sewerage department in the factory’s rear led to the collapse.
“As per the charges, my client failed to maintain the building, but Section 304-A does not include maintenance unless there is a rash or negligent act by the accused on the day of the occurrence,” Dyal claimed in the court, adding that the building was constructed by contractors, not by Vij.
Vij was accompanied by his son Abhishek in the court room on Thursday. Soon after his acquittal, he left in a huff.
Why the case fell flat
* The SIT absolved Vij of any role in the disaster, dropping non-bailable charges against him
* The prosecution failed to establish bailable charges against Vij due to loopholes in the police investigation
* Vij’s counsel argued in the court that the 20-ft-deep ditch dug up by the sewerage department for a storm-water channel in the factory’s rear led to the building collapse. However, the SIT report made no mention of any ditch
* The injured told the SIT in their statements that the building had collapsed suddenly and Vij was not responsible for it