It’s murder, not accident
The fire that killed 51 employees of a food processing factory in Narayanganj was not a bolt from the blue for the owners who, according to police, knew such a disaster was imminent but chose to do nothing.
Police yesterday arrested the owners of Hashem Foods Ltd, Md Abul Hashem, his four sons, and three others accused of burning 51 employees to death.
"They knew that the building, full of combustible chemicals and substances, might catch fire anytime, but did nothing… We accused them of killing the workers," Deputy Inspector General of Police (Dhaka Range) Habibur Rahman told The Daily Star yesterday.
"There were inadequate fire exits and no fire safety equipment. The fire was not a mere accident," he said.
Inspector Nazim Uddin Majumder of Bhulta Police Outpost filed the case with Rupganj Police Station yesterday.
Hashem's four sons: Hasib Bin Hashem, Tarek Ibrahim, Tawsib Ibrahim and Tanjim Ibrahim were accused.
Others accused and arrested are: Sajeeb Group Chief Operating Officer Shahan Shah Azad, Hashem Foods Deputy General Manager Mamunur Rashid, and its Civil Engineer and Admin Officer Salahuddin.
Hashem, chairman and managing director of Sajeeb Group, which owns the Rupganj factory, and his sons were arrested at their Gulshan home in the capital. The three others were also arrested in the city.
A Narayanganj court placed each of the eight accused on four-day remand yesterday.
A team from the Electric Safety and Security Association of Bangladesh (ESSAB) visited the building and the members told reporters that they were shocked by the inadequate fire safety measures.
"Every basic rule was violated. There are no fire doors, no hydrants, and no evacuation plans. There's a barrier on every floor. Besides, each section is within a netted enclosure. It seems they didn't follow any plans on what to do in case of fire," Mohammad Monzur Alam, vice president of ESSAB, told reporters.
Debashish Bardhan, deputy director (operations and maintenance) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said, "The building did not have approval from the fire service. We issue fire safety plans for buildings. But no plan was given for this one."
He added that the roof on the fourth floor had collapsed, making the entire structure risky.
The owner of the property, Hashem, was an Awami League nominee for the parliamentary seat of Laxmipur-3 in the 2008 general election. He was defeated by BNP nominee Shahid Uddin Chowdhury Annie.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, while visiting the Narayanganj factory yesterday, said no one would be spared if their negligence was found to be a cause of the tragedy.
"Every responsible person will be brought under trial," he added.
Though the cause of the fire has yet to be ascertained, police suspect that it originated from an electrical short circuit on the ground floor where flammable goods like cartons and paper rolls were stored.
Firefighters on Friday said the total number of deaths was 52. But the police and district administration yesterday said the number was 51.
Bodies of 48 people were found on the third floor where the only exit was locked. The bodies were charred beyond recognition. Most of the victims were women and children. At least 10 others were injured while the firemen rescued 25 from the rooftop of the factory.
After conducting autopsies of 49 bodies at Dhaka Medical College morgue, officials sent 15 to a mortuary of Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College because the one in DMC was at capacity.
The body of Morsalin, 22, who jumped off the second floor, was handed to his family members.
Besides, DNA samples of 51 family members of 36 victims were collected for matching. Some of the families have demanded compensation for their losses.
At the site of the six-storey building, Director (operations) of Fire Brigade and Civil Defense Lt Col Zillur Rahman said, "We didn't find adequate firefighting equipment. Some places in the building were locked. Many could not get out because of the partitions. These can be a cause of the fire and the loss of life."
There is a chance that the fire originated from electric sparks as machineries and raw materials were kept at the same place, he said.
The entire building was full of combustible materials, he said, adding that some sections were locked.
HASHEM FOODS STATEMENT
In a statement issued on Friday, the company said soon after the fire started, the authorities informed the firefighters and also used their own fire hydrants.
The company will provide medical treatment to the injured ones and stay by the side of the families of those who died.