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Justice a far cry in the Tazreen Fashions fire case

  • Published at 05:20 pm November 23rd, 2019
At least 112 workers were killed in a massive fire at Tazreen Fashions Limited in Ashulia on November 24, 2012 Courtesy

On November 24, 2012, a massive fire raged through Tazreen Fashions Limited in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital, killing at least 112 workers and injuring more than 200 others

The seventh anniversary of the devastating Tazreen Fashions fire tragedy will be observed on Sunday. However, justice remains a far cry for the families of the victims.

There is no significant progress in the trial of two cases filed for the fire incident, though seven years have gone by with no witnesses appearing.

On November 24, 2012, a massive fire raged through Tazreen Fashions Limited in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital, killing at least 112 workers and injuring more than 200 others.

The blaze, believed to have been caused by a short circuit, was the deadliest factory fire in Bangladesh.

Witnesses refuse or unavailable to testify

The victims, survivors, and the families of the deceased workers, are yet to get appropriate compensation as pledged by the authorities concerned, rights activists said.

Expressing disappointment with the delay of the trial, Joly Talukdar, general secretary of Garments Sramik Trade Union Kendra said: “ 35 hearings were held since the trial got under way on October 1, 2015, but the prosecution was only able to produce witnesses on six court hearing dates."

"We don’t know how many days will be needed to record the depositions of 104 witnesses, when the trial will be completed, and when the victims will get justice," she said in deep dismay.

According to court sources, the cases are still pending with the Dhaka First Additional District and Sessions Judges Court due to the non-appearance of witnesses, the slow pace of trial proceedings, and the apparent ‘negligence’ of officials concerned.

On September 3, 2015, the trial started in the cases against 13 accused persons, including Tazreen Fashion's owner and Managing Director Delwar Hossain, and his wife and Tazreen Chairman, Mahmuda Akhter.

The others accused are Shahiduzzaman Dulal, Mahbubul Morshed, Hamidul Islam, Md Al Amin, Md Al Amin (2) and Anisur Rahman, Abdur Razzak, Md Rana, Shamim Miah, Dulaluddin, and Mobarak Hossain Monju.

All were top officials and employees of the ill fated readymade garments factory, and they are all free on bail in the case.

Ineffective prosecution

Since the trial started in 2015 against the 13 officials and employees, the court recorded depositions of only eight prosecution witnesses out of 104 in the case.

Court sources said, although the court fixes trial dates one after another for witness testimony, the prosecution has failed to produce witnesses. 

Appallingly, the prosecution has failed to produce any witnesses in court over the last two years in the Tazreen Fashions Fire case.

Sources said most of the case witnesses are RMG workers. Following the fire accident, most of the workers have secured jobs at other factories and moved to different workplaces.  Against this backdrop, law enforcement could not find them at their previous addresses.

Out-of-court settlement

Meanwhile, allegations are also common that the accused in the cases have reached out-of-court settlements with the case witnesses,  with jobs or other benefits. As such, case witnesses are supposedly reluctant to testify in court.

Talking to this correspondent, Additional Public Prosecutor Morshid Uddin Khan told Dhaka Tribune: "We are trying our level best to complete the trial but it is being delayed due to the non-appearance of prosecution witnesses in the case." 

According to the charge sheet, Tazreen Fashion's owner Delwar Hossain and his wife constructed the factory building with a faulty design outlay and illegally used its ground floor as a warehouse.

There was no fire exit in the factory though a provision of the country's labor law stipulates that there must be two exits in every factory, says the charge sheet.

It was also mentioned in the charge sheet that : "The factory was built a mile away from the main road, making it very difficult for firefighting units  to enter the factory compound."

Managers and security guards have been indicted as they asked  panic-stricken workers to get back to work even as smoke was billowing from the spot.

Fire alarms went off as soon as the fire broke out. Panicked workers tried to leave the factory before the fire could spread across the building. But according to the charge sheet, managers and security guards told them that it was nothing serious.

BGMEA, foreign buyers remain unfazed

Worker rights activists said BGMEA and foreign buyers, who were supposed to stand by the victims, have done little to arrange workers’ compensation.

Rights activists and family members of victims have become frustrated due to a long delay in trial completion of the long pending case.

Human rights defender Saydia Gulrukh said: "The trial in the Tazreen fire cases hasn’t been completed due to negligence on the government’s part."

The trial has got stuck as officials concerned exposed their lack of motivation in disposing of the cases, the rights activist said, urging the government to ensure justice for victims of the fire incident.

Justice has often been delayed and denied in Bangladesh. It has been particularly out of reach for workers in the country’s powerful garment industry, which employs about four million workers and sells billions of dollars of clothes to Western retailers like Walmart, Gap and H&M.

Fires and building collapses are common in the country, particularly in the multibillion-dollar garment industry  where building regulations are lax and volatile chemicals are often improperly stored.

Fires and building collapses are frequent in the country

In April 2013 - At least 1,136 people were killed and hundreds injured when an eight storey building housing five garment factories supplying global brands collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka. The collapse of Rana Plaza was the worst industrial accident in Bangladesh and one of the world’s most deadly industrial accidents.

In August 2016, more than 100 people fell ill in Bangladesh after inhaling gas that leaked from a fertilizer factory in the port city of Chittagong. 

In September 2016, a fire at Tampaco Foils, a food and cigarette packaging factory north of Dhaka, killed at least 34 people and injured dozens.

In March 2019, at least 25 people died when a fire broke out in the 22 storey FR Tower in Dhaka, trapping hundreds of office workers.

In February 2019, at least 70 people died when a massive fire raced through several apartment buildings also used as chemical warehouses in a centuries old part of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

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