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Bangladesh - March 7, 2024

No case of death by fire was prosecuted

Zarif Mahmud : Serious fire incidents are happening repeatedly in the capital. Many people are dying. On February 20, 2019, a cylinder exploded with a loud noise in Churidhatta area of Chawkbazar. Due to the chemicals in Waheed Mansion, the fire took a terrible shape. Before realizing anything, more than half a hundred people who were stuck in the traffic jam on the road near the building lost their lives. In the end, the death toll rose to 71.
On March 28 of the same year, 27 people died in a fire in FR Tower, a multi-storied commercial building in Banani.
Earlier, on June 3, 2010, an electric transformer exploded at Nimatoli in Chankhanerpool of the capital. The fire broke out in the nearby chemical godown. 124 people got burned in that terrible fire. 23 houses, shops and factories were burnt.
Apart from this, several major fire accidents have occurred in Dhaka including Bangabazar, Moghbazar, Newmarket in the last few years. But the trial is not over in any case. In the meantime, after the loss of many lives in the fire on Bailey Road last Thursday, the question has arisen – will this incident be prosecuted at all?
In these incidents, the top level of the government has promised to take action against the culprits, but the proceedings have stopped after the trial. No case has been filed in the Nimtali incident. In the case of others, even if there is a case, the trial does not end due to lack of witnesses. As a result, no accused or culprits were sentenced in the fire incident.
After reviewing the documents and events related to the case, it was found that illegal commercial activities were conducted in the buildings related to the fire. In these cases, various organizations including the building owner, the Capital Development Authority (Rajuk), developer companies are involved in the approval process.
As a result, stakeholders including influential government officials tried to divert the case to different sectors. In addition to disrupting the process of taking evidence, they took a stay from the High Court in legal battle in the case proceedings. Due to these reasons, even if cases are filed in major accidents, the trial has been slow.
However, the building owners concerned were arrested immediately after the incident; But later they came out on bail. Prominent lawyer Shahdeen Malik in this regard told that there could be one or two exceptions. However, most of the fire accidents in our country result in criminal cases. In these cases, the accused have to prove in court that they wanted to kill. But in the developed world, these incidents are no longer criminal cases. Civil suits were filed for compensation for those who died there. Proving civil cases is also easy and legally correct.
He further said that if there is a large penalty against the owner or if there is such a provision, he himself will take necessary measures to prevent fire accidents and follow all the laws starting from the design of the building. But we are walking the wrong way in such cases. It is a wrong move to imprison the owners or those concerned in such accidents. Walk towards the penalty. Others will also come to the legal route if there is provision for large fines.
According to him, the existing system of filing criminal cases is unfortunate. Those who are affected also want the accused to be jailed. Jail does not benefit the victim. And the government also gets the fine money. So, the existing structure needs to be changed. Then the witnesses will also be willing to testify in court.
Anwarul Kabir Babul, Additional Public Prosecutor of the District and Sessions Judge Court of Dhaka told that in addition to errors in the investigation, there is negligence on the part of the police officials. They can’t produce witnesses in court. Because many of the witnesses are floating. They are not available during the trial. The police are responsible for the investigation. If they finish the investigation and can’t produce witnesses, how will the trial proceed? Therefore, the trial of many cases is stopped in the investigation.
Nimtali Tragedy
On June 3, 2010, 124 people died in the explosion of a transformer at Nimtoli in Chankhanharpool of the capital. About fifty were injured. No one could be held guilty in this much-discussed incident. It has not been identified who is responsible for the loss of life in that fire. As a result, due to not filing regular cases, the issue of prosecution of those responsible has remained hidden. After the Nimtali incident, various government directives have been issued to remove the chemical warehouse from Old Dhaka, but it has not been implemented yet.
Churidhatta tragedy
Five years have passed since the Churidhatta tragedy. But the situation has not changed. Still defying government directives, there are chemical warehouses under many houses and business is going on in full swing. The police are yet to identify the owners of the chemical godown (warehouse) responsible for the death of 71 people in the horrific fire in Churihatta. The investigation of the case is not over.
According to the police, the chemical godown was set up on rent of Haji Waheed Mansion in Churihatta with wrong name and address. Investigation can’t be completed due to lack of correct name-address. The original owner of the building was arrested after the incident but later released on bail.
FR Tower Tragedy
On 30 March 2019, the police filed a case in Banani police station regarding the loss of life of 27 people in Banani’s FR Tower. After the investigation, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DB) submitted the charge sheet to the court on December 20, 2022. However, the court ordered the PBI to conduct further investigation, stating that the investigation was not carried out in due process.
Rafiqul Islam, investigating officer of the case and PBI Dhaka Metro South inspector, accused eight people and submitted a supplementary charge sheet to the court on January 22 this year, where the chairman of Rupayan Group, Liaquat Ali Khan Mukul, was recommended to be acquitted.
According to the supplementary charge sheet, the responsibility of supervising and managing the building does not fall on them as Rupayan Group has transferred possession. No negligence on the part of the construction company was observed in the case of fire. In this incident, a case has been filed against the officials of Rajuk and related organizations, but they are on bail. However, the fire at FR Tower was blamed on building approvals, design flaws and fire safety.
After the incident, Rajuk started the process of making a list of high-rise buildings at risk in the city. It was said that the list will be published in the media. All illegal structures outside the design will be demolished. But these activities have stopped.
Current status of some cases
On June 27, 2021, 12 people died in an explosion on the ground floor of a building called ‘Rakhi Neer’ in Moghbazar Wireless area. Although there was a case in this incident, there was no trial.
On April 24, 2013, 1,136 people lost their lives in the Rana Plaza tragedy, the worst disaster in the history of the country. In this incident, two separate cases were filed under the murder and building construction laws. District and Sessions Judge Court of Dhaka filed charges against building owner Sohel Rana and 41 people in the July 18, 2016 murder case. At present, all the accused except Sohail Rana are out on bail. Neither of the two cases have been completed.
In 2012, 112 garment workers were burnt to death in a terrible fire at Tazreen Fashions in Nishchintpur, Ashulia. Hundreds of workers were injured. In 2013, the CID filed a charge sheet against 13 people, including Tazreen MD Mohammad Delwar Hossain. All the accused are currently on bail. The state party is taking time again and again because of not being able to produce witnesses.
On September 10, 2016, 42 workers lost their lives in a fire at the Tampaco Foils factory in Bscic Industrial Area, Tongir. The police and Abdul Quader, the father of the deceased laborer Jewel, filed a separate case in that incident. In the case filed by the police, 10 people were made accused, mainly the former member of parliament of BNP Maqbul Hossain, the owner of the institution. Eight officials, including Tampako Malik, are accused in the case filed by Abdul Quader, the father of the deceased worker Jewel, whose trial is still ongoing.
Human rights organizations say that even if death occurs in minor fire accidents outside Dhaka, it does not come into discussion. The case is; But none were prosecuted.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer ZI Khan Panna told that not only the building owner, but all the related government agencies should be held responsible for the Bailey Road tragedy. Eight restaurants running in one building – was it unknown to the government agencies?
Regarding the trial of death in fire accidents, he said, the role of all related agencies including fire service authority, factory directorate, explosives directorate should be looked into in every accident. They should also be brought under the law. Government agencies cannot avoid liability by simply blaming the owner.

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