A Dhaka court yesterday framed charges against 13 people, including two owners of Tazreen Fashions, in a case over a devastating fire in the garment factory that killed 112 workers nearly three years ago.
The District and Sessions Judge's Court fixed October 1 for starting the trial in the country's worst industrial fire on November 24, 2012.
Tazreen's Managing Director Delwar Hossain, his wife Mahmuda Akter, also chairman of the company, and six others -- all on bail -- claimed innocence and submitted separate petitions seeking discharge from the case.
Judge SM Kuddus Zaman rejected all the eight petitions. The other five accused were shown fugitives.
During yesterday's hearing, Additional Public Prosecutor Mizanur Rahman argued that all the accused -- including Delwar and Mahmuda -- were directly responsible for the fire and there was negligence on the part of the owners.
On the other hand, TM Akbar, a counsel for Delwar and Mahmuda, claimed that his clients had no hand in the fire; rather they were trying to save the workers' lives.
The judge, however, said as owners and policymakers of the factory, Delwar and Mahmuda could not avoid responsibility for the deaths.
The other 11 accused are factory manager Abdur Razzak, quality control manager Shahiduzzaman Dulal, production manager Mobarak Hossain Monju, manager (admin) Md Dulal Uddin, construction engineer Mahbubul Morshed, store-in-charge Hamidul Islam and Md Al Amin, security-in-charge Md Al Amin and Anisur Rahman, security guard Md Rana, and loader Shamim Mia.
Five of them -- Dulal, Razzak, Monju, Rana and Shamim -- are still at large.
At least 112 workers, mostly women, were killed and scores wounded in the fire at Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital.
The factory used to stitch apparels for different international brands, including US giant Walmart.
A day after the incident, Ashulia police filed a case in this connection.
On May 19, 2013, the High Court issued a rule asking the government to explain why it should not be directed to prosecute Tazreen owner Delwar for his alleged negligence in protecting the workers from the fire.
Next month, a probe body formed by the home ministry submitted a report to the HC, saying there was "unpardonable neglect" on the part of the owner.
On December 22 that year, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) submitted charge sheet against the 13 people in the case filed by Ashulia police.
Delwar and his wife were charged with constructing the building on a faulty plan with the help of engineer Morshed, and illegally using the ground-floor walkway as a warehouse.
There was no fire exit in the factory in violation of the labour law, the charge sheet said.
Moreover, the factory was built a mile away from the main road making it very difficult for fire service vehicles to reach the factory during a fire, Investigation Officer AKM Mohsinuzzaman Khan, also an inspector of the CID, said in the charge sheet.
The managers and the security guards were charged with pressing the workers to get back to work though smoke was billowing from the ground floor where the fire started.
Fire alarms rang as soon as the blaze broke out. Panicked workers tried to leave the factory before the fire spread. But managers and security guards told them it was nothing serious, said Khan.
Another case was filed by the brother of a fire victim in May 2013 against the Tazreen owners and 29 factory staff over the incident. The CID is investigating the case.