9 writs over 5 fire incidents still pending disposal

This 21 February 2019 file photo shows the entire Churihatta area in Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar in ashes after a devastating fire.Prothom Alo

At least nine writ petitions have been filed with the High Court over the last 11 years regarding the cause of fires at various factories, chemical warehouses and establishments, negligence in building construction and fire fighting systems as well as seeking compensation for the victims.

The court issued orders and rules on six writs while the remaining three are pending hearings.

Records show a writ was filed over Nimtoli fire incident in Old Dhaka’s Nawab Katra 11 years ago, two writs over Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Ashulia 9 years ago, one writ over Tampaco Foils factory fire in Gazipur six years ago, four writs over Churihatta fire in Chawkbazar two years ago and a writ petition was filed over the mosque explosion in Narayanganj’s Tolla area last year.

Lawyers involved in the petitions said victims received a little compensation immediately after filing the writ petitions but these petitions are still pending disposal. Decisions on compensation may come after final settlement of these petitions. It is necessary to conduct hearings on these writs on priority basis, they observed.

124 people died in Nimtali

A devastating fire in Nimtali area of Old Dhaka’s Nawab Katra on 3 June 2020 left 124 people dead and several hundred others wounded. On 10 June that year, architect Mubasshar Hussain and a resident of Dhaka’s Sutrapur on behalf of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), director (human rights and legal aid services) of BRAC, Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB) filed a writ petition over the failure of the people concerned to take adequate and effective measure to prevent fire incidents in Dhaka city.

After initial hearing, the High Court issued a rule and instructed the probe committee several times to a file report. Later, the probe committee formed the by the home ministry to find out the cause of fire submitted its report to the court. The report put forward 17 recommendations including relocation of warehouses or chemical factories from residential area urgently, legal action against unapproved factories, and strict ban on storing and selling of chemical and explosives materials in residential areas.

The Wahed Mansion fire incident in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta took place on 20 February 2019. After that, those five organisations and that individual filed a supplementary application to the High Court with the writ petition on the Nimtoli fire incident. While hearing the petition, the High Court observed that it was unfortunate that its previous order went unimplemented. The court then directed submission of the next report on the progress on implementation of its previous orders.

Regarding the latest on the writ, chief executive of BELA Syeda Rizwana Hasan told Prothom Alo, no final settlement has been made on the writ on the Nimtoli tragedy as yet. The report that the court ordered the state to submit hasn’t been filed as yet. That’s why final hearing on the rule couldn’t take place.

She said, “We have learned about the probe body’s recommendations on Nimtoli incident through various sources. But the administration is going in the opposite direction. The victim families of Churihatta incident didn’t receive significant compensation but the Wahid Mansion that housed chemical warehouse has been renovated. Though there is a decision to shift all chemical warehouses of the capital to a certain location, not a single brick has been laid to this end as yet.”

Tazreen Fashion fire claims 112 lives

A fire broke out at Tazreen Fashion factory in Nischintapur of Ashulia, outskirts of capital Dhaka, on the night of 24 November 2012, killing 112 people and injuring 141 workers. ASK, BLAST, Nijera Kori and BRAC filed a writ petition at the High Court at that time seeking instructions on action against the people involved in the incident.

The High Court on 26 November of that year issued a rule asking to explain why an order should not be given to take legal action against people responsible for the fire. The court also simultaneously directed submission of a report on the list of apparel factories across the country, whether factories are complying with the laws and regulations, and what steps have taken to protect the workers from fires.

Regarding the progress on the writ, BLAST lawyer Sharmin Akter said the writ is still pending final settlement.

Three people also filed a writ petition over the Tazreen Fashion factory fire on 28 April 2013 seeking necessary instructions including legal action against people involved. The High Court issued a rule on 19 May that year and ordered to run DNA test to know the identity of the unknown workers. The home ministry was also ordered to submit its report on the fire incident. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) submitted its report on victims’ compensation to the court in July that year.

Lawyer of the petitioners Md Asaduzzaman told Prothom Alo following the court order interim compensation has been made in favour of the workers sustaining severe injuries and the deceased workers who were identified. A proposal on fixing final compensation permanently was also submitted to the court.

“There are provisions on compensation in all laws regarding worker’s accidental death at work. But Tazreen Fashion factory fire can’t be called an accident. Its fatalities are caused by negligence,” he said adding the writ is also pending settlement.

Tampaco factory fire kills 39

Thirty-nine people died and 35 others sustained injuries following a huge explosion and fire at Tampaco Foils factory fire in BISCIC Industrial Area in Gazipur’s Tongi on 10 September 2016. BLAST, ASK and BELA filed a writ petition on 19 September that year, pointing to the negligence of the people concerned to avoid the incident, failure of the authorities concerned to ensure labour safety and adequate compensations for the victims. After initial hearing, the High Court on 26 September issued rule asking as to why order should not be given to compensate the victims adequately.

The writ is still pending disposal.

Churihatta tragedy and four writs

Seventy-one people were killed and scores injured after a devastating fire broke out at Wahed Mansion in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta on 20 February of 2019. Four writs were filed separately following the tragedy. Lawyer Nur Muhammad Azmi and another person were among the petitioners. They sought the court’s instruction on the formulation of law and guidelines on manufacturing, use, marketing and storing of chemicals.

After preliminary hearing, the High Court on 26 February 2016 issued rule asking as to why the failure of the defendant to implement 17-point recommendation placed by a previously formed committee over Nimtoli incident and prevent the repetitive occurrence in Chawkbazar should not be declared illegal. During the hearing that day, the court observed the committee placed recommendations over Nimtoli incident in 2010 but those weren’t implemented. A probe body was formed after an incident and it mades recommendations but the recommendations never see the daylight. Coordination between city corporation and ministries is necessary to this end. Implementation of recommendations can solve 80 per cent of the problems.

Petitioner Nur Muhammad Azmi told Prothom Alo, “We haven’t received the response to the rule as yet and final hearing couldn’t be held too.”

Following the Churihatta incident, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court ZI Khan Panna filed a writ seeking court instruction on formulation of policy to set up safe zone for industries and lawyer Yunus Ali Akhand filed another one seeking court order on a Tk 3 million (30 lakh) compensation for the victims. Besides, a certain Jabed Mia from Churihatta filed another writ petition seeking court’s instruction on shifting chemical factories, warehouses and cylinders from Old Dhaka to another location. All four writs were placed at a High Court bench for hearing on 26 February 2019. The court then adjourned hearing of three writs. No progress has been made since then, the lawyers concerned said.

Tolla mosque blast kills 34

Thirty-seven people sustained burns in an explosion at a mosque in Tollla of Narayanganj on 4 September 2020. Thirty-four of them succumbed to their injuries. A lawyer of the Supreme Court and resident of Narayanganj Maryam Khandaker on September 6 filed a writ petition seeking Tk 5 million (50 lakh) compensation for families of each of the blast victims. On 9 September the High Court issued a rule and ordered the Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company to provide the families of 37 victims with Tk 500,000 each within seven days upon receiving the order. The state and the TItas Gas authorities filed a leave-to-appeal against the HC order with the Appellate Division and sought a stay order. On 13 September, the chamber judge stayed the High Court’s order and sent the appeal to the regular bench of Appellate Division for hearing. On 1 December, the Appellate Division disposed the appeal and upheld the chamber judge’s stay order.

Lawyer of the writ petitioner Taimur Alam Khandaker told Prothom Alo the Appellate Division ordered speedy disposal of the case. Then, the writ appeared in the case list of High Court bench concerned for final hearing. However, the final hearing on the writ couldn’t take place for over a year because of the coronavirus situation. Hearing in such cases should be held on priority, he observed.

BLAST is one of the leading petitioners on fire incidents at Nimtoli, Tazreen Fashion and Tampaco factories. The honorary executive director of BLAST, Sara Hossain told Prothom Alo on Monday victims had received a little compensation by the court’s interim order following writ petition. Particularly, victims of Tazreen Fashion factory fire got financial help from various sources. Along with the writ, various assistance processes were also accelerated for the victims of Tazreen Fashion and Tampaco fire incidents. The Tampaco factory authorities provided compensation for the victims though it wasn’t adequate. A sort of activity and accountability appeared among the defendants because of the court’s monitoring following writ petition, she added.

Sara Hossain said it’s observed during the hearing on the writ that if a worker dies, he/she would receive Tk 100,000 (now Tk 200,000) as per the labour law at that time and it’s not adequate. Question was also raised before the court on that there is no right standard of compensation in the labour law and the life of a citizen can never be equal to just Tk 200,000. But it’s saddening that no final settlement of any writ has happened as yet. A decision on adequate compensation may come after the settlement of the writ petitions, she hoped.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna