Rana Plaza collapse: Little progress in case over nine years

Rescue operations going on at Rana Plaza
File photo

On 24 April about nine years ago, 1,135 workers died in the incident of the collapse of Rana Plaza. The trial in the case filed in connection with the death of such a large number of workers in the country is still in the initial stage.

Among the 594 witnesses of the case testimony of only one witness has finished till now. Questions have been raised about the prosecution’s role for the trial of this deaths not being completed in the lower court yet after so many years.

From analysing the documents of the case and talking to public prosecutors of the case it was learnt that, two years went in the investigation of the case. The case remained stuck for two more years as the permission to include six government employees in the charge sheet as accused was denied.

At that time, the public administration ministry along with the labour and employment ministry said that they cannot give permission to make someone, who didn’t commit a serious crime, as accused in the charge sheet. In the end, Police did press charges against them despite being denied the government’s approval. One more year went in starting the official trial (framing charges).

Meanwhile, seven accused of the case went to High Court, challenging the order of starting the trial of the case and the court gave stay order in their favour. Because of that stay order recording of the witness statement in the case remained closed for five years.

However, recently the stay order given in favour of six of those accused, have been revoked. As a result, the testimony process began from 31 January this year. Testimonies in this case are being taken at the court of HM Habibur Rahman Bhuyan, district and sessions judge of Dhaka.

When asked about the slow pace of the trial, Bimal Samaddar, additional public prosecutor of Dhaka district and sessions judge court said to Prothom Alo, for various reasons the trial of the murder case filed in connection with the incident of Rana Plaza collapse did not move forward much. However, the process of taking testimony has started now. The prosecution has been taking all the steps needed for quick disposal of the case, he added.

If the prosecution or the government were a little active on this issue, the trial would have been over by now
Kalpona Akter, a worker leader and executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity

In the Rana Plaza tragedy, along with 1,135 deaths, 1,169 more people were crippled. In all, three cases were filed in connection with the incident. Of them, police filed the murder case in accusation of death by negligence. Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (RAJUK) filed the second case on allegation of violating building construction act. And, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed another case under the accusation of building construction-related corruption. Trials in none of these three cases ended.

As two accused of the murder case died, they have been exempted from the case. Currently the number of accused in the case is 39. Of them, only the owner of Rana Plaza, Sohel Rana is behind the bars. Seven accused are still absconding. However, about five years ago court sentenced Sohel Rana to three years of imprisonment in another case of not submitting wealth statement.

Relatives of Rana Plaza collapse victims break into tears after placing wreaths at a mausoleum built in memory of the victims on 24 April 2022

Among the other accused in this case, there are Rana Plaza owner, Sohel Rana’s parents Abdul Khalek and Morzina Begum, former engineer of Savar municipality Rafiqul Islam, site engineer Sarwar Kamal, the then mayor of Savar municipality Refayet Ullah, the then councilor of Savar municipality Mohammad Ali Khan, the then Chattogram divisional inspector (engineering) of factories and establishment inspection department Md Yusuf Ali, the then Dhaka divisional inspector (engineering) of the same department Md Shahidul Islam, former deputy chief inspector Md Abdus Samad and deputy chief inspector (general, Dhaka division) Md Jamshedur Rahman.

Jhuma Khatun used to work at a readymade garments factory on the 5th floor of the building. No traces of her have been found in these nine years. Jhuma’s brother Anwar Hossain said to Prothom Alo on Saturday, “My mother Anwara Begun still waits for my sister Jhuma’s arrival. But, we know she will never return again. We want death penalty for Sohel Rana and those, because of who so many workers including my sister have died.”

About the trials of the cases filed in connection with Rana Plaza tragedy, attorney general AM Amin Uddin said to Prothom Alo on Saturday that testimony in the murder case has started. And, necessary legal actions will be taken, if there is any stay order against the trial of the case filed under building construction act, he added.

Rana’s boastful comment, “Rana Plaza won’t collapse in 100 years”

According to the charge sheet, at around 9:00am on 23 April, 2013, cracks appeared on the walls and pillars of the second floor of the Rana Plaza building. Officials of garments factory owners’ association BGMEA went to visit Rana Plaza building hearing of the cracks. They advised the owners of the garments factories housed in the building to stop all activities until tests are done by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET)’s building experts.

Relatives of Rana Plaza collapse victims and different organisations who work to ensure rights of labourers place wreaths at a mausoleum built in memory of the victims on 24 April 2022

However, owners of five garments threatened the workers to go to work on the next day (24 April). Owner of Rana Plaza, Abdul Khalek and his son Sohel Rana also joined them. Sohel Rana on that day boastfully had said, “Rana Plaza won’t collapse even in the next 100 years.”

It was said in the charge sheet, owner of Rana Plaza and his son exercised irregularities and frauds at every steps of constructing the building, which turned this building into a death trap. There were five apparel factories in that building. Heavy electric generator and heavy sewing machines were installed in those factories. Cracks appeared on the second floor of the building on the previous day of the collapse.

However, the owner parties opened all five of the garments on the next day without announcing the building abandoned. On the day of the incident, there was a sudden power cut in the Rana Plaza building at around 9:00am. When the factories switched on three generators at once, right at that moment the building collapsed with ear-splitting sound, added in the charge sheet.

Trial of case filed under building construction act stayed

Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of police brought charges against 18 people including Sohel Rana on 26 April of 2015 in the case filed under the building construction act with allegations of various flaws in constructing the building and using low quality materials. On 14 June of the next year (2016), Dhaka’s Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) court framed charges against the accused.

However, some of the accused petitioned for revision challenging that order. Additional public prosecutor of CJM court, Anwarul Kabir, said to Prothom Alo, stay order came on 8 November last year, after the defence went to High Court challenging the order of framing charges. Testimony process in this case is currently off as the stay order has not being revoked.

Apart from that, recording of statement of witnesses is going on at Dhaka’s special divisional court in the case, filed under the allegations of corruption in construction of the Rana Plaza. Charges were framed in this case against 10 people including Sohel Rana on 21 May, 2017. Taking testimony in this case has not finished as yet. Testimonies of only 14 people have been taken until now.

Kalpona Akter, a worker leader and executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity expressed frustration after learning of the trial of Rana Plaza murder case still being at the primary stage after nine years.

She said to Prothom Alo, if the trial still remains in the primary stage even after so many years, then when will be the trial completed? If the prosecution or the government were a little active on this issue, the trial would have been over by now. Even the international communities are raising questions for this trial not being disposed as yet, she added.

* The report, originally published in the print and online editions or Prothom Alo, has been rewritten into English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha