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     Volume 4 Issue 44 | April 29, 2005 |

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4/11 The killing tower of Savar


Four days after the crumbling of the building, there was an air of sombreness enveloping the vicinity of the once nine-storied Spectrum Sweater Industries at Savar, the site of one of the most horrific man-made disasters in this country definitely and even in the world. Some television channels went as far as saying this was no accident, it was murder. Many have agreed as the facts unfolded.

In the warm afternoon, recitation from the Holy Quran from its sister concern, the adjacent four-storied Shahriar Fabric Industries, wafted over patches of mud, greenery and silence that surrounded the scene of the crime. Also encircling the rescue operation mounted by army, rifles, fire service, police and others were makeshift marquees in three vantage points.

Hundreds of shell-shocked people sat under the marquee, in the open air and by the roadside. Some of those waiting were the near and dear ones of the hapless victims; their eyes fixed to the moving cranes, bulldozers and men working atop the stupa of concrete lest they miss someone being found and picked up, dead or alive it did not matter.

Four days later, on 19 April the rescue operation was officially called off after the authorities were certain there was no one, dead or alive, under the rubble. One wonders if post mortem of the dead was carried out, as this may create legal loopholes later. Unfortunately, as in the past, we have been unable to ascertain the exact number of dead, the figures range from 61 to 76, and 97 listed missing were still unaccounted for.

Although a case was filed by OC Savar Thana implicating the owner of 'murder by negligence', the owner could not be traced by investigating police 'at his residence'. One can only admire the expectation of our police. But an executive of the factory was tracked by overseas media BBC for an interview that has been aired. And we can't find them!

With a little prudence and common sense the owner could also be trailed to some local newspaper offices. It was at best appalling that leading newspapers could repeatedly publish ads that sang the innocence of the factory owner and management even when scores of bodies were lying trapped between RCC slabs. The paid ads had the audacity to proclaim that the building was

constructed by a BUET qualified designer, using the best of materials, and under the best of supervision.

Whereas the police went public by saying that the owner cannot be traced (DS 25 April), here we have the sought-after (?) people making a payment to print their advertisements! Should not the newspapers concerned have asked the owner's representative, assuming the owner did not turn up at the paper office but was authorising the payment, to report to the police who were 'searching' for them? Or could they not have called up the police?

Whereas TV channels televised round the clock and the print media gave extensive coverage of the mammoth and difficult rescue operation, identification of the charred remains, handing over of the bodies, treatment of the injured by army personnel, fire service men, BDR, police, local admin, BGMEA and others, these newspaper ads claimed that the factory owner took care of every detail, including full payment to all the workers till March 2005. Do not those ads belie the reporters of that very newspaper? This is not freedom of speech; it is also a form of unhealthy avarice and irresponsibility.

It was similarly pitiable to see a cement company in a front page advertisement literally taking advantage of the Savar deaths and claiming de facto that its cement can provide reliability in construction. Even after tragedies we seem to forget there is a time and place for everything.

Just because a person has a BUET degree does not absolve him of all responsibility. Just because the said engineer has turned out, as claimed in the ad, several successful multi-storied buildings, does not exonerate him from the recklessness that has seen the collapse of a building.

A combination of greed, negligence, arrogance and haste of the owner led to the mass murders. In a major step in the right direction a parliamentary standing committee 'held the Spectrum owners responsible for the unauthorised design of the collapsed building and recommended tracking down the RAJUK (?) officials who authorised the faulty design…' (DS 25 April)

According to newspaper reports, contradicted only by the paid advertisements inserted by the owner, there is controversy regarding the ownership of part of the land. Land and the adjacent Baipol Khal (canal) have been encroached.

If a bank loan was involved in construction, did it not care to see the 'passed' drawing of the proposed building and subsequent extension? There was not any. Did not the contractor look for a valid drawing? They could not, because the owner never collected the 'passed' drawings from the Board. The engineer must have considered the soil report. Was there any soil investigation? Did not the supervising engineer, if any, see the anomalies in the design? The workers saw 'serious cracks' in the building columns but no one important paid heed because it was still a good sixteen hours before the crash.

One report said the Savar Cantonment Board approved the plan of a four-storied building in 2004 although construction as well as production began in 2001. (Janakantha 17 April) No surprise, the plan was not as per construction. As per law, no construction can commence or be altered or extended in Bangladesh without the approval of the appropriate authority. In that case the Board should have stopped the construction as soon as it started; and when it crossed the Board's 'height limitation of four stories'. It did not; even when it was becoming nine-storied.

A plan of a factory passed by the Savar Cantonment Board requires the signature of the architect. Was there an architect? The Dhaka Cantonment Board Rules 1994 (one presumes Savar has similar rules) requires the structural design with calculations be submitted. Was a qualified engineer engaged? We learnt from the owner's ad that there was indeed an engineer, but the non performance of the columns speaks volumes about the under design of the building. The slabs lay there like layers of a cake, burying innocent and needy workers underneath.

It is now a cliché that we do not take lessons from the past. We are not even ready to learn from the immediate horrendous experience of the Savar tragedy. The BGMEA in a meeting decided, positively so, that 'new' members must have clearance from RAJUK or where applicable from a qualified engineer. What about the existing members? According to the Inspectorate of Factories it found almost half of randomly chosen garment factories (of the nearly 4000) having unsuitable buildings. Should not the owners of those faulty factory buildings lose membership? In the least, should they not remedy the shortcomings in their buildings and then re-apply for approval of the appropriate authority? The only thing such a decision could do is save lives, lives of our workers. Need we tell BGMEA, their workers?

Contextual perhaps is Hamlet in William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet':
I have heard,
That guilty creatures sitting at a play
Have by the very cunning of the scene
Been struck so to the soul that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ.

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