More than two years after the Rana Plaza building collapse, police yesterday pressed murder charges against 41 people, including the building's owner Sohel Rana, for their alleged roles in the country's deadliest industrial disaster that killed over 1,100 people in April 2013.
Eighteen people were also charged for “violating building codes” in constructing the nine-storey building that housed five garment factories on its upper floors in Savar. Of them, 17 are among the 41.
Most of the dead were garment workers who toiled day and night stitching clothes for global brands.
The accused persons also include Rana's parents, owners of four factories, mayor of Savar municipality and 14 government officials.
But the then Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Savar Md Kabir Hossain Sarder was not charged as the government did not permit the investigating officer to do so.
It took the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) 25 months to submit the charge sheet in the case that shook the world. The delay was caused by government's alleged dillydally in giving permission to implicate its officials and recording of statements of a large number of witnesses.
Bijoy Krishna Kar, assistant superintendent of police of CID, submitted two charge sheets -- one for killing and another for violating building code -- before the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court of Dhaka.
On June 28, the court will decide whether to accept the charges.
In the charge sheets, the CID cited 724 people as witnesses to prove the cases.
The shoddily constructed commercial building came crashing down on the morning of April 24, 2013, leaving 1,136 people dead and injuring 1,169 more, according to the case statement.
Media and labour organisations put the number of injured at over 2,500.
More than two years on, about 100 people are reported missing.
The man-made disaster triggered a huge outcry at home and abroad over workers' safety in the RMG sector, the country's highest foreign currency earner. In fiscal year 2013-2014, the sector fetched $24.50 billion in forex.
The collapse prompted the government and foreign buyers to do more to ensure labour rights and workplace safety.
Following the incident, three cases were filed -- one for building code violation, one for culpable homicide and the other for murder.
During investigation, the CID found that Rana and managements of the five factories had forced workers to enter the building against their will, even though the building had developed major cracks the day before.
That is why charges of murder instead of culpable homicide were brought against the 41, said Bijoy, the investigating officer.
The accused violated the building code by constructing four additional floors on top of the original five-storey building. Built with substandard materials, the building also had structural flaws.
The murder case, filed by the widow of victim a -- Jahangir Alam -- was initially tagged with the homicide case. During the probe, however, the homicide case was converted into murder case.
Halima Begun, one of the survivors, said she was happy that the building owner and top government and factory officials were charged with murder. “But I will be happier when Rana and factory owners would be hanged.”
BGMEA President Atiqul Islam said, “Law will take its own course. The law that governs the 16 crore people of the country also governs the garment owners. But it must be ensured that no innocent is punished.”
WHY THE DELAY
The investigating officer told The Daily Star that he had to interrogate a “huge number” of injured victims and their families and also other people concerned with the incident, which took time.
In September 2014, he sought government's permission to include public officials “responsible” for the collapse in the case. It took several months to get the government nod, which is mandatory to press charges against public officials.
Asked why UNO Kabir was not charged, Bijoy said they did not find “strong evidence” against him.
“However, we still wanted to charge him because there are allegations against him. But we did not get government approval,” he added.
The day before the collapse, Kabir reportedly visited the site and declared the building was safe. Following the incident, he was withdrawn from the post.
The 41 who have been charged with murder are: Rana Plaza owner Sohel Rana, his parents Abdul Khaleque and Morzina Begum, Savar Municipality Mayor Refat Ullah, its Ward Councillor Mohammad Ali Khan, its Engineer Rafiqul Islam, Sub-assistant Engineer Raqibul Hassan Russell, Chairman of New Wave Bottom Ltd Bazlus Samad Adnan, Managing Director of New Wave Style Ltd Mahmudur Rahman Taposh, Chairman of Ether Tex Ltd Anisur Rahman, Managing Director of Ether Tex Ltd Jannatul Ferdous, Chairman of Fantom Apparels Aminul Islam, site engineers Sarwar Kamal, Abu Bakar Siddique and Mohammad Madhu, the then chief executive officer of Savar Municipality Uttam Kumar Roy, its the then assistant engineer Mahbubur Rahman, Urban Planner Farzana Islam, the then deputy chief inspector (Mills and Factories Directorate) Abdus Samad, Deputy Chief Inspector (Mills & Factories) Jamsedur Rahman, Deputy Chief Inspector Belayet Hossain, Inspectors (Engineering) Yusuf Ali and Shahidul Islam, Building Inspector Md Awlad Hossain, building contractor Md Nantu, Anil Das, Md Shah Alam Mithu, Abul Hasan, Shafiqul Islam Bhuiyan, Monwar Hossain Biplob, Ataur Rahman, Abdus Salam, Biddut Miah, Syed Shafiqul Islam Johny, Rezaul Islam, Abdul Hamid, Abdul Majid, Aminul Islam (2), Nayon Miah, Yusuf Ali and Taslim.
Designations of the last 13 accused could not be known.
Anil Das, Shah Alam Mithu and Abul Hasan gave Rana shelter following the incident and helped him flee to India.
The first 17 on the list are also accused in the second case. Another person charged with violating building code is Mahbub Alam, whose identity was not immediately available.
Only four accused -- Sohel Rana, Anisur Rahman, Rafiqul Islam and Aminul Islam -- are in jail. Twelve accused, including Rana's father, are on bail while 25, including Rana's mother, have been shown fugitives in the murder case. Mahbub Alam is also on the run.
Bijoy, the investigating officer, appealed to the court to order their arrests.
He also appealed that the court drop charges against eight people named in the FIR, including David Mayor Riku, a Spain national and owner of one of the five factories, as their involvement could not be proved.
The court is expected to give order in this regard on June 28, court sources said.