Sohel Rana 30, owner of Rana Plaza, not only defied laws of the land in constructing the nine-storey building but also used his political muscle to grab most of the 56 decimals of prime land on which it was built.
Sources in Savar said that 10 years ago, he first set up Rana Oil Mill in a tin-shed structure on a small piece of land his father had given him. Then he moved to grab the large pond behind it belonging to someone else. All this was done to build Rana Plaza.
“Over 60 percent of Rana Plaza was built on a portion of the pond he grabbed, and later negotiated a deal with its owner who was terrified. The pond was then filled up to complete building Rana Plaza,” said a local businessman, requesting anonymity.
Rana, who studied up to eighth grade at a high school in Savar, originally came from Singair, Manikganj. His father Mohammad Khalek worked at a small traditional mustard oil mill in Namabazar area of Savar. With the land prices soaring 10 years ago, Khalek became a land broker and at some point brokered a deal to get a small plot on the site of Rana Plaza.
Having dropped from high school, Rana became a political activist and a cadre of the ruling Awami League under direct patronage of its top local leaders.
“Sohel Rana is known as an Awami League muscleman in the area and he maintains gangs of youths,” said another local businessman. “Savar area is known for drug trade and various sorts of illegal activities controlled by several gangs. Extortion, drug trade and illegal land brokering are some of the activities of these gangs,” he added.
Other local sources also said Rana nurtures gangs of youths in Savar area and organises anti-opposition processions. He is mainly used by local lawmaker Murad Jong in retaining domination in the commercial areas of Savar.
Rana amassed wealth in the 10 years. He has another four-storey market in Savar and a house nearby. He owns two brick kilns in Dhamrai and recently he grabbed several acres of land in the area.
Police and local sources said he defied orders of the mayor and officials on Tuesday to keep Rana Plaza closed as it developed cracks. He told the ill-fated garment workers that he had been assured by an engineer that the building was in no danger, and would last a hundred years. The following morning hundreds of garment workers were forced to return to work at around 8:00 am when their first shift started. The building collapsed in less than an hour.
On Wednesday morning, Rana was having a meeting at the building with a crowd of his own people, planning for an anti-hartal procession. He was rumoured to be injured in the building collapse. He has not been seen ever since.
On Tuesday night, in an interview with private channel Ekattor tv, Rana claimed that the building was not risky. An engineer was called in and he checked it.
Asked if the engineer named Razzak was a fake one, he said Razzak was a site engineer. He had hit the crack in the building with a bamboo stick and assured that it was just broken plaster on the wall.
Meanwhile, the High Court yesterday asked Rana and officials concerned to appear before it on April 30 in connection with the building collapse.
The officials include managing directors and chairmen of the garment factories housed in Rana Plaza, the upazila nirbahi officer of Savar and the officer-in-charge of Savar Police Station.