Long wait for justice
The death of more than 1,100 garment workers in Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 had shocked the world's conscience. The man-made disaster tainted the country's image abroad.
One of the easiest ways to regain the image, at least to some extent, was to deliver justice to the families of the deceased and to those who have been battling injuries.
But trials of two sensational cases filed in connection with the disaster didn't begin in the last three years, leaving the victims waiting for justice.
A case was filed against Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza, and 17 others on charges of violating the building code for illegally constructing four additional floors atop the original five-storey building.
Built with substandard materials, the high-rise had structural flaws, according to the case statement.
The investigation officer of the case took around two years to submit the charge sheet in the case. He submitted the charge sheet in a court in June last year. The court issued arrest warrants against the accused fugitives.
And since then a Dhaka court spent one year until Tuesday to frame the charges. It took police a long time to return the warrants to the court, causing the delay in charge-framing.
The trial of the case, as fixed by the court, will begin on August 23.
The progress in the murder case in another Dhaka court is not satisfactory. The court has fixed July 18 to hold hearing on charge framing against Rana and 40 others.
This case couldn't make much progress, mainly because of the labour ministry's stance to protect its three officials from being charged with murder.
The ministry initially didn't give permission to try the officials. The trial court on several occasions had expressed dissatisfaction at the ministry's dilly-dallying in giving permission.
Three officials -- Deputy Chief Inspector (mills & factories) Jamsedur Rahman, and inspectors (engineering) Yusuf Ali and Shahidul Islam -- were held responsible for neglecting their duties. They were legally bound to inspect the factories at Rana Plaza.
The ministry sided with the officials from the very outset. Nothing seemed to convince the ministry to change its mind. All along it made efforts to protect the three, thanks to the existing legal provision that says a court can't take cognisance of a criminal case to try government officials without prior permission from the government.
The persistent refusal by the ministry delayed the submission of the charge sheet in the murder case. The IO informed the court about the matter. Finally, the court in December last year had to use its inherent powers to include the three officials in the charge sheet.
It might take a long time to deliver justice in the cases as there are many witnesses. After the delivery of verdicts by the trial courts, the convicts would file appeals with the High Court against their convictions.
They would also be exercising their right to file appeals with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court if they wanted to. This would take more time to complete the trial.
If the accused are found guilty of flouting the building code, they might be sentenced to maximum seven years behind bars each.
The long delay in beginning the trial has already generated the fear that the victims would be deprived of justice. This fear would be getting stronger due to the culture of impunity. The aphorism -- justice delayed, justice denied -- has been popular in Bangladesh, thanks to the culture of impunity.
And the role of the labour ministry is also condemnable. The ministry has proved that it is for the officials, not for the poverty-stricken workers. This attitude mocks the ministry's vision and mission to work for the workers' welfare.
It seems the death of over 1,100 garment workers failed to shake the conscience of the labour ministry high-ups. Such an inaction and inertia in a $25b money-spinning sector is unpalatable.