Sheuli’s gold pendants and the authorities’ deep sleep!

Smoke billows from the six-storey factory building of Hashem Foods as firefighters try to put out the flames on July 9, hours after a fire broke out at the factory in Karnagop area of Narayanganj’s Rupganj upazila. Photo: Star

Everyone present on the grounds of Nishchintopur Primary School was in uncertainty that day. On November 24, 2012, 122 workers were burnt to ashes in a fire at the Tazreen factory in Nishchintopur, Ashulia. Later, the dead bodies were all placed in rows on the school grounds. No doubt, the bodies were charred beyond recognition, and it would be hard to identify them. However, the relatives of the victims were trying to recognise each and every corpse wrapped in a bag.

Mohammad Shoaib of Rajbari cried out when he noticed the gold pendants on a skeletal body. Crying, he said, this was the body of his wife, Sheuli. He had bought those gold pendants for his wife. However, Nurjahan Begum of Rangpur, standing next to him, could not separate her sister from the other burnt bodies. She cried out and asked, "Where is my little sister Babita?"

Nine years have passed since that day, and I still cannot forget the sound of their cries. The recent death of 49 workers and staffers in a fire in Narayanganj reminds me of that incident again.

The scenes of Tazreen and Hashem Beverage are almost the same. Tazreen was a 9-storied building, and the factory of Hashem Food and Beverage Limited is 6-storied. The main gate on the third floor was locked when a fire broke out in the Tazreen building. As a result, people could not get out of there. The same thing happened in Rupganj.

Tazreen's firefighting system was faulty, and the death toll was high due to the lack of an emergency exit. We had almost the same thing here.

Tazreen Fashions Limited was an organisation of Toba Group. Two days after the incident, the company owner Delwar Hossain said that he was not responsible for the fire. Mohammad Abul Hashem, chairman of Sajeeb Group, the owner of the company in Narayanganj, said the same thing.

Although a case was filed in Ashulia police station in connection with the Tazreen fire, no specific person was charged. Police said the accused would be charged after they received the investigation report. However, nothing happened. We are still waiting to see what happens now.

Officials from the fire service said the fire was exacerbated by the presence of a large amount of plastic, chemicals, cartons, and other flammable substances in the building in Rupganj. However, this is not the first such incident in the country. It's happening again and again, and nobody has been accused of failing their responsibility.

On June 3, 2010, a fire broke out in Nimtali killing 124 people. After the incident, there was a demand to remove dangerous chemicals and combustibles from warehouses in old Dhaka.

The first of the 16 recommendations made by experts from the investigation committee was the same. But the warehouses and factories of various chemical substances are still there. The other recommendations are still pending. A general diary was filed at Bangshal police station after the incident in Nimtali. But nobody was held responsible or punished.

Then on February 20, 2019, another terrible fire broke out at Churihatta in Chawkbazar. 78 people lost their lives this time because of the presense of various chemicals. But nobody was accused or punished.

On March 28, 2019, a fire broke out in the FR Tower of a 22-storied building in Banani. 26 people died, and that's when it came to the public's attention that the tower was constructed with the approval of 18 floors from RAJUK. But, why did the authorities not see this before the incident happened?

On September 10, 2016, another 36 people died in a fire at the Tampaco Foils factory in Tongi. After the incident, it was discovered that the factory building had no proper staircase. It was also learned that the factory did not follow the approved layout of the building—and many more irregularities were reported in the news. But this factory was inside the BSIC industrial area, and none of the authorities seemed to notice those irregularities.

On December 11, 2019, 13 people died when a fire broke out at a plastic factory called Prime Plate and Plastic Industries Limited in Chunkutia, Keraniganj, near Dhaka. The workers could not get out immediately after the fire broke out. It was later learned that the factory was operating without any permission. The structure had neither any environmental clearance nor any firefighting ability; there was nothing. But nobody noticed that before the disaster happened.

Similar incidents were heard of after Rana Plaza—that the building was illegally constructed on a filled-in pond, compromising its structural integrity.

Indeed, it is surprising that each time after such an incident happens, it is discovered that there were multiple errors with building construction, lack of approval, not enough fire extinguishers, and so on, that contributed to the disaster. However, to set up a factory, one needs a lot of approvals from many government departments. And not just approvals. There are various government departments, including the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments, whose job it is to supervise for irregularities on a regular basis. But each time, the faults are only discovered after a disaster strikes. Before that, everyone seems to be asleep!

The incident in Narayanganj was nothing different. Nobody saw anything. Shockingly, many of the victims are children and teenagers under the age of 18. But no one even noticed that before. However, three investigation committees have now been formed after the fire, and there will be a lot more investigations in the next few days. There will be a lot of discussions, a lot of information will become public. Then, just like the past incidents, all will be lost again after some days. Some day in the future, the same accident will happen again. And we will hear the same story again.

It's astounding! 623 people have died in 171 launch accidents in 10 years, and each time we only come to know about the faulty designs and lack of fitness of the water vessels after a tragedy happens. If there is a fire, we see more of the same thing. But we have several government authorities who are supposed to look out for these. Yet, it seems like none of them are awake until someone is dead!

As a result, we end up hearing people cry over and over again. They beg and say, "Please help us find the dead body of my beloved!"

Shariful Hasan is a freelance journalist.



বিএনপি নেতার সাজা, একই ধরনের মামলায় আ. লীগ নেতা খালাস: ফখরুল

একই ধরনের মামলায় আওয়ামী লীগ নেতা খালাস পেয়েছেন এবং বিএনপি নেতাদের সাজা দেওয়া হয়েছে বলে মন্তব্য করেছেন দলটির মহাসচিব মির্জা ফখরুল ইসলাম আলমগীর।