With the full judgment on the acquittal of 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 and injured another 59, yet to come, several questions remain unanswered.
Defence lawyer Darshan Singh Dayal managed to convince the court that the building collapsed due to the 20-foot ‘ditch’ dug up by sewerage board officials for a storm channel, yet the special investigating team (SIT) — in its fact-finding report — made no mention of the ditch.
Dayal added that SIT members had, in fact, during cross examination, admitted that the collapse had been caused due to the ditch. Again, the ditch did not find any mention in the report attached with the chargesheet.
It is also a valid question then that how have officials of the sewerage board managed to save their skin for almost four years.
“We don’t need to investigate the sewerage board when witnesses in the case, including SIT members, admitted that the ditch caused the collapse. The witnesses also told the court that the building caved in from the side of the ditch,” said Dayal.
“It was a disaster where 23 people were killed and the rescue operation, even by highly-skilled National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams, took seven days to find the bodies. It is astonishing that nobody has been held responsible,” said a senior administrative official who dealt with the tragedy. The court is also silent on the compensation to be given, if any, to the diseased and the injured.
“When my client has no role in the collapse, he is also not bound to pay any compensation. The court has not given any direction,” said Dayal.
The prosecution failed to nail Vij even on the discrepancies that the SIT had found in the maintenance of the building. Wards of most of those who lost their loved ones in the collapse failed to join the investigation. Sources claimed they were paid ‘compensation’ by ‘unknown people’ and simply moved on with their lives. A labourer’s body still remains untraced.
Many of the injured investigated by SIT — 33 in all — appeared as witnesses only to say that there was no role of Vij in the collapse. Senior lawyers even claim that the prosecution left glaring holes during the pressing of the charges that led to the clean chit for the accused.