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One year of Chawkbazar inferno: Trauma still haunts survivors

  • Published at 11:49 pm February 19th, 2020
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Fire fighters try to douse flames at Churihatta of Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar on February 20, last year. The devastating fire raced through at least five buildings and killed 71 people Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Victims wait for justice but progress remains slow in investigation

On this fateful day a year ago, Ramin, now a sixth grader lost all his family members.

With his parents and only brother, he was travelling via a rickshaw to a party on the day at Churihatta in Chawkbazar

As the rickshaw carrying all of them reached Chawkbazar, a deadly explosion went off. Ramin survived as he fell off the rickshaw due to the shock wave following the explosion.

But his remaining family members – parents Rashedul Islam Mithu and Sonia Akhter and only brother Shahir- were hit by the fire and were burned alive. 

Today, Ramin still cries out for his family members sometimes. His physical wounds have healed but the trauma caused by the tragedy remains, said Md Muslim, his maternal grandfather.

Many of the victims, who survived the devastating fire a year ago, are yet suffering from trauma because of the horror they witnessed.

As many as 71 people were killed when the fire broke out at Wahed Mansion at Churihatta in Chawkbazar, spreading to the neighbouring buildings. Among the deceased, 67 were killed on the spot and four others later died in hospitals.

Sixty one-year old Abdul Mannan was pulling a rickshaw when a brick hit him, pulling him off the vehicle with the explosion.

A year after the blaze, Mannan, who lives in a rented house in Bangshal's Abul Hasnat Road, is struggling for survival with no income to support himself. 

“I received Tk65,000 as assistance just after the accident, but no one has ever cared to know how we are surviving. Nowadays, I cannot even pull the rickshaw because of the physical wounds, which situation in turn largely affects my family and our survival,” said Mannan.

“Maintaining my family is a curse now,” he added.

Another victim, construction worker M Selim Mia, went back to his village home at Naria in Shariatpur because of his injuries.

“My wife gave birth to a daughter, but I have not been able to gift her something precious as I have not recovered yet. The government provided rehabilitation for many, but shall we receive any, ever?" he said.

Investigators still look for people involved

Many probe bodies found that the fire had originated from the warehouse storing cosmetics, especially spray canisters, on the first floor of Haji Wahed Mansion.

The fire service officials also found that the basement of Haji Wahed Mansion – the first building to catch fire in Chawkbazar – housed flammable material that could have fuelled greater explosions. Similar stockpiles were also found in adjacent multi-storey buildings.

Just after the fire, a case was filed accusing 14 people, including the two owners of the building – Md Hasan and Md Sohel alias Shahid.

Venting his anger, Asif Ahmed, who lost his father Jummon in the fire and is also the plaintiff in the case, lamented that though it was not possible to get back the dead, there had been no progress in the case although a year had passed. "It's frustrating. We want justice,” he said.

Chawkbazar police station Inspector (Investigation) Kabir Hossain Hawlader said the police detained two accused, but they had secured bail from the court.

“We also identified four or five other persons, but failed to ascertain their addresses. We did not get the exact addresses even after scrutinising their national identity cards,” claimed Hawlader, who is the investigating officer in the case. 

Progress in the investigation of the case remains slow, with investigators pointing to the non-receipt of autopsy reports as the reason behind the failure in completing investigations.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Deputy Commissioner (media) Masudur Rahman said they were yet to receive post-mortem reports of the 71 people who lost their lives. 

“We are waiting for the reports,” he added.

Investigators would be able to submit the charge sheet after scrutinising post-mortem reports, only if they are ready soon, he added.

Forensic experts at Dhaka Medical College said they had prepared the post-mortem reports of 67 victims and would submit them to the police shortly.

Associate Prof Dr Sohel Mahmud, head of Forensic Department at Dhaka Medical College, said the reports could be submitted to the law enforcement agency anytime.

The forensic expert said the authorities concerned had handed over 45 bodies to relatives after identification, while the remaining 22 bodies were sent for DNA profiling. Nineteen of them were identified and three remained unidentified yet.

"Those who could not identify their relatives can provide DNA samples now, paving the way for identifying the victims," Sohel said.

When asked as to what took them so long to make the post-mortem reports ready, he said: "We collected the DNA samples from the relatives and sent those to the CID (Criminal Investigation Department). It took time to get the DNA reports from them. Besides, transfer of the coroners also caused the delay in preparing the autopsy reports."

Suggestions vs realities

Five of the 17-point recommendations by the home ministry-formed probe committee after the Nimtali tragedy

Sl.

Directive

Status

 
  1.  
 

Immediate relocation of godown and factories from residential area

Construction of  chemical village in Munshiganj underway, but many godowns and factories still in operation at Old Dhaka 

 
  1.  
 

Legal action against unauthorised factories

DSCC and DNCC do conduct drives, occasionally

 
  1.  
 

Ensuring building construction as per Fire-Prevention-Act-2003 and National Building Code

66% of the buildings in Dhaka were constructed illegally, Rajuk says. 

 
  1.  
 

Strengthening surveillance on license delivery procedure for storage of chemicals, their marketing, and sale 

DSCC and DNCC do conduct drives, occasionally

 
  1.  
 

Setting up hydrant points with separate water lines at residential areas for speedy fire extinguishing

Not implemented

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