The fire department issued safety clearance to Tazreen Fashions Ltd in Ashulia although the factory had grossly lacked fire safety measures and building approval.
On November 24, 2012, a devastating fire in the factory on the outskirts of the capital killed 112 workers.
In 2008, the fire department first issued licence for the erstwhile three-storey factory building. They kept renewing the licence year after year until June, 2012 while owner of the factory Delwar Hossain kept extending the building illegally.
The fire department, however, served a notice on Tazreen Fashions in July, 2012 asking it to renew the licence. But the factory owner did not pay heed to that.
Maj Mohammad Mahboob, a director of Directorate of Fire Service and Civil Defence, admitted that the factory building lacked fire-protected emergency escape as per building code.
Deputy Director of fire service Abdus Salam said they had issued licence for three-storey factory building but the owner extended it up to ninth floor without complying with necessary fire safety measures.
Asked why they had issued licence and approved renewal for the subsequent years, Brig Gen (retd) Abu Nayeem Md Shahidullah, director general of fire service, said Tazreen building had complied with fire safety measures on the whole.
"There were only minor rectifiable safety deviations for which written instructions were given on the building owner along with licence for rectifications," he said adding that buyers do not place order if fire licence is not updated.
Asked if fire licences are issued in this fashion, Brig Nayeem said they issued licence if safety compliance was found â€œreasonably satisfactoryâ€.
He attributed the loss of lives in Tazreen fire to unauthorised warehouse on the ground floor where all the three staircases meet, and the hindrance created by factory officials.
Meanwhile, visits to the building revealed gross violation of safety codes, including absence of an emergency exit.
The fire department chief had earlier admitted that none of the three staircases at Tazreen was fire protected as required by safety law.
Mubasshar Hussein, president of Institute of Architects Bangladesh, said the fire department had no scope for issuing licence to this factory, as it had grossly violated building rules and fire safety provisions.
The structure lacked fire-protected emergency exit and traceable water reservoir dedicated to fire fighting, he said.
A fire escape at a multi-storey building has to be fitted with fire resistant doors and must have easy access, unhindered route and safe refuge as per the building code. Firemen too use the emergency escape to help evacuation and douse fire.
The factory building was set up on a 10-foot-wide rural pathway in the midst of homesteads. The rules required at least 30-foot-wide road for such structures.
Moreover, highly flammable garment materials were stacked around a high-voltage electric substation and electric generator with every chance of fire on the ground floor, said Mubasshar Hussein.
The said code also requires a fire protected lift with alternative power supply which would be used for fire fighting and exit in case of a building higher than six storeys.
â€œIt is a wonder how the fire authority issued licence to this factory at all. The factory owner did not obtain clearance during building expansion, and the occupancy certificate after completion, both of which are issued by the fire department,â€ said Hussein.
Fire licence implies that safety measures are satisfactory as per law and building code.
Nazma Akhtar, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, said the fire department and labour department officials could not answer why they had issued licences to Tazreen.
On top of that, the local Union Parishad gave approval to Tazreen factory although the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha is to do that.
Md Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said they had launched an inspection at 10 randomly chosen factories through a team of engineers, architects, firemen and labour department officials on December 23 last year.
The pilot inspection would prepare a status report with recommendations on ensuring basic safety provisions, he added.