Factory licences given, renewed despite faults
The chief factory inspector's office had granted licences to four garment factories at Rana Plaza and renewed those every year since 2008 though the factory floors of the nine-story building were built illegally and the units lacked safety standards.
Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD) authorities had also issued fire licences to the factories and renewed those every year.
The high rise at Savar collapsed on April 24 due to structural faults, said eminent civil engineers. Over 1,100 people perished in the collapse, which turned out to be the deadliest man-made industrial disaster in the country's history.
As per the law, building owner Sohel Rana was supposed to get its design approved by the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha. Though he had approval from Savar Municipality for raising a five-storey structure, he built four stories more and rented out the top floors to garment factories.
The office of the Chief Inspector of Factory and Establishment (CIFE) is responsible for verifying the authenticity of the approval and ensuring safety of workers. But the CIFE seemed to have overlooked this mandatory verification prior to issuing licences to these garment units.
Four factories -- New Wave Bottoms Ltd, Phantom Apparels Ltd, Phantom Tex Ltd and New Wave Style Ltd -- had obtained licences from CIFE between 2006 and 2008, according to records.
The fifth, Ether Tex Ltd on the sixth floor, had been running without any licence.
“Garment factory owners usually don't approach CIFE for licence at all. Being involved in underhand deals, some unscrupulous officials issue licences to non-compliant factories,” said a CIFE official requesting anonymity.
The chief factory inspector is supposed to check and endorse the design of factory buildings for construction, alteration and extension, ensuring safety, health and conducive working condition for workers prior to issuing any licence.
Talking to The Daily Star, Md Habibul Islam, the CIFE, said his office verifies the authenticity of the approval for construction of the building, environment department's clearance certificate and workers' safety before giving any licence to factories.
Asked how they gave licences to factories set up on illegal floors at Rana Plaza, he said, “As it is now being probed, I can't make any comment on it.”
The CIFE, under the labour law, can file cases against the owners of non-compliant factories.
It has filed 11 cases against the owner of Rana Plaza for anomalies in the approval of the high rise and against all five factory owners for not maintaining safety standards, mentioned Habibul.
An investigation of officials responsible for issuing licences to non-compliant factories was underway, he added.
Contacted, Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garments Sramik Federation, said the CIFE's office has to ensure compliance of all-round safety for the workers.
“But it is now evident that it had issued licences to Rana Plaza factories through underhand deals without ensuring mandatory compliance,” she complained.
The CIFE said nearly 40 percent of 314 positions at chief inspector's office are vacant. Of the total manpower, only 103 are factory inspectors.
Of them, only 52 are posted to oversee more than 26,000 registered factories across the country.
There are only 13 working inspectors out of approved 29 posts to look after 14,000 registered factories in Dhaka division alone.
Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of FSCD, said they had issued fire licences to all five garments factories at Rana Plaza and renewed those until June this year.
Enquired about how did they grant licences to factories set up on illegal floors of Rana Plaza, he said, “I have to look into this before I make a comment on those decisions.”
In November last year, a dreadful fire at another garment factory Tazreen Fashions Ltd at Ashulia claimed 111 lives. Housed in a nine-story building, the factory also had acquired fire licence from FSCD.