Wrongs are exposed, but only after a tragedy
The devastating fire at the food factory in Rupganj is yet another example that accidents occur when rules are disregarded, safety procedures are ignored and profit motive trumps over human lives. So far 56 bodies have been recovered. One suspects that there may be many more who have been reduced to ashes and cannot be traced immediately. The real picture would emerge after verifying with the relatives of those working at the ill-fated factory. No wonder that these deaths have been termed as murder. The factory had all the ingredients for a disaster to happen, and it happened.
While we can only express our bereavement, and repeat our hope that such accidents never happen again, we have a nagging premonition that we have not seen the last of such dreadful events brought about by the inexcusable callousness of people. For it is not the owners only that are to be blamed, though they must share the bulk of it, every single agency of the administration that regulates factories, oversees safety parameters of buildings, and the fire department and the department of labour, should share the burden of guilt for the deaths. And regrettably, it would be business as usual when matters calm down.
However, what has made these deaths unacceptable, and unpardonable is the loss of 16 children, who are as yet missing, but we may as well give them up for dead. Reportedly, most of the 16 are below age and were hired illegally, and that too employed in hazardous jobs as per our labour law. They were being paid a pittance for their eight or 12-hour work daily. This exposes and further confirms the dismal child labour indicators in Bangladesh.
The picture of child labour is miserable. As per a report of 2015, nearly 1.2 million children in Bangladesh were trapped in the worst forms of child labour. One can only assume that the figure has gone up since then, particularly during this pandemic that has accentuated existing financial hardship of many poor families. And unless the government is as sincere in its action as it appears to be in words, the situation will get even worse. There is no dearth of greedy entrepreneurs like the owners of the Rupganj food factory, who exploit the economic plight of the marginalised for enhancing their profit. But what adds culpability to their immorality is their scant regard for the safety of their workers. The owner of this factory has the cheek to make an asinine remark that he did not light the fire. Surely, he did not light the fire. But nevertheless, he sent them to their deaths by locking all the gates of entry and exit.
We are used to hearing the home minister promising fire and brimstone for the culprits after every such disaster. But nothing happens at the end. Unfortunately, most of these criminals manage their way out, whether through money or connection. That should not happen at all. The factory owners and his errant staff must pay dearly for their deeds. They must be held accountable for the 53 lives lost and those who have been injured in this fire.