Nothing is right
The Rajuk came to know about 12 years ago that the Faruque-Rupayan Tower was built in violation of the approved plan, but it remained silent for all these years.
The construction of four extra commercial floors on the 18-storey building did not worry the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) either.
At least 26 people were killed in a deadly blaze in the building on Thursday. Fire safety experts found that the commercial high rise lacked any safe fire exit.
Following the Gulshan market fire in January 2017, the fire service department identified that almost all the around 200 commercial high rises in the capital's Banani and Gulshan had no approved fire safety plan, said Maj AKM Shakil Newaz, operations director of Fire Service and Civil Defense.
“None of them had the safety licence from the fire service department,” he told The Daily Star.
But the fire service is yet to go for further actions, like snapping the utility service connections to those buildings and declaring those unsafe for occupancy. It only held some meetings with the building owners and issued notices to them.
In recent years, the department carried out some surveys on fire safety at buildings and chemical hazards to assess the potential hazard and vulnerability.
Building and fire safety experts believe that the loss of so many lives and property could have been averted had the Rajuk and the fire service acted in time.
Asked about its silence, Rajuk Chairman Md Abdur Rahman said, “It [violations of the plan of FR Tower] did not come to our notice.”
About the allegation that Rajuk officials allow illegal construction work, he said, “There might be some underhand dealings. This happens in such cases.”
“I issued a letter on Thursday to check fire safety measures and compliance with the approved plan of every commercial building with more than 10 storeys. The drive will begin in Banani tomorrow [today],” he told The Daily Star.
He said he didn't know what happened in the past regarding making the errant building owners accountable.
Maj Shakil said they held the last meeting with the owners of commercial high-rise buildings in Banani in December and issued notices asking them to follow the fire safety measures in line with the Bangladesh National Building Code and fire safety law.
But no progress has been made in this regard till date, he added.
Asked why they didn't exercise the legal power vested in them, Shakil said they were preparing the ground for it.
Following the last month's Chawkbazar fire tragedy, the fire service department had written to the authorities concerned to operate mobile courts against those building owners who were neglecting fire safety.
The Rajuk chairman said a probe into FR Tower in August 2007 found that the developer, Rupayan Housing Estate Limited, built the building with 22 storeys, although it had an approval for 18 storeys. There were no relevant documents with the Rajuk for an approval of 23-storey building as claimed by the developer firm, he added.
National Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury said ensuring structural, foundation, fire and electrical safety of a building are fundamental requirements.
“All the promises [of the authorities] will become empty words and the tragic fire incident will go into oblivion like what happened in the past. The media will be occupied with another pressing issue, and the people will wait for yet another incident of tragic deaths of innocents,” said the noted civil engineer.
The Fire Preventing and Extinguishing Act, 2003 stipulated that the owners and occupants of multi-storey buildings have to file a report on fire safety compliance within six months of the law coming into force. They have to follow a complete fire safety plan in light of the building code. If they fail to comply, the fire service department will declare the building unsafe for occupancy.
Buet's Prof Maksud Helali, who worked as a fire safety expert on RMG factory buildings' safety compliance, said the faulty design of FR Tower enabled smoke from the fire to engulf the staircase. The blaze easily burnt one floor after another, killing many people, he added.
Prof Mehedi Ahmed Ansary of the same university said the building's emergency stairs were only about 1.5 feet wide.
Patwary Jahirullah, adviser to Rupayan Group, said they kept provisions for fire hydrants, emergency exits and staircase as per building rules of 1996 and the Rajuk approved their design.
He said Rupayan handed over the building to the floor owners' association in 2008 and that they had nothing to do if the association neglected the safety provisions.
About putting fire safety plan in place as per Fire Safety Act, 2003, Patwary said he was not aware of it.