Labour rights activists yesterday claimed the number of casualties in the Tazreen fire is much higher than the official count.
The government put the number of dead at 111 and that of missing at 53.
But Moshrefa Mishu, president of Garments Sramik Oikya Forum (GSOF), a labour rights organisation, insisted that over 200 workers died in the blaze.
Dozens have remained missing since the incident two weeks ago, Mishu said at a press conference.
At a separate press meet, three researchers and rights activists put the number of missing workers at 59.
Saydia Gulrukh, a researcher from the University of North Carolina, said the journalists and fire-fighters who rushed to the fire site on the night of November 24 think the authorities were evasive about the total number of casualties.
The activists also came down heavily on the government and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) for siding with Delowar Hossain, owner of Tazreen Fashions, from the very beginning.
"BGMEA has maintained its tradition by siding with the owners," said Anu Muhammad, professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University.
The rights activist said the government has been trying to protect Delowar by painting the incident as an act of sabotage.
“Although the government talks about sabotage there is no sign of investigating the reasons and people behind it,” he said.
The activists demanded immediate arrest of the owner of the export-oriented apparel company as well as the officials of BGMEA and the government agencies whose negligence led to the fire.
Mishu said the factory owner sent the workers to death by violating workplace safety laws, and demanded life imprisonment for him.
"It is a criminal offence equivalent to killing. We want the owner to be arrested. But it has been over two weeks, and the owner remains at large. We strongly protest and condemn such inactivity by the government.”
She cited previous cases of deaths from factory fire, where the owners went unscathed due to government's apathy.
"A precedent needs to be set. If the Tazreen owner goes unpunished, the others will continue to defy the laws.”
The GSOF president also pointed that Hossain is yet to pay compensation to the families, and urged the government to secure just compensation from him.
Anu Muhammad reiterated Mishu's views and said the lack of compensation from the owner's part is “most unfortunate”.
The demands come a few days after the prime minister handed over compensations to the families of 43 workers whose bodies were burnt beyond recognition in the fire.
"But it does not free the owner from paying up. We want the owner to provide compensation to the affected families soon," Mishu said.
The compensation that was handed out was from the prime minister, the labour and employment ministry, BGMEA, Pubali Bank and a foreign buyer.
"They were all public money. Why should the public bear the financial brunt when they are not responsible?" Anu questioned.
Not all of the 43 workers' families, however, got Tk 6 lakh each as promised, Mishu claims.
"We have got a number of families who got Tk 1-2 lakh. It is a deceit to the families -- in the name of compensation."
Anu Muhammad said, "The prime minister has donated Tk 2 lakh to the family each dead and the labour and employment ministry also donated Tk 1 lakh each."
Besides, he added, the compensation of Tk 6 lakh for each death is not enough.
"Our Serious Accident Law stipulates that the compensation would be double the amount of money the victim of an accident would have earned during his or her lifetime."
He said the workers who died were aged 20 to 30 and they would have worked another about 40 if the country's life expectancy is taken into account.
"By all calculations, the families of the dead workers should have been given Tk 48 lakh as compensation."
He also said nobody is taking care of the workers injured in the fire.
"They are taking treatment on their own expenses. If any of the badly burnt workers becomes crippled, who will take care of him or her? We do not know the answers."
Gulrukh also said the BGMEA has not taken any step to list the injured workers and has also not decided whether any compensation would be given to the family members of the missing workers.
Meanwhile, over 100 workers of Tazreen Fashions yesterday demonstrated at Nishchintapur Primary School in Ashulia, demanding salary and compensation.
“It is impossible for me to survive as I have no money to buy foods for my five boys,” said Laizu Begum, 30, who worked at Tazreen for eight months. Her identification number is 4048. She worked on the third floor of the eight-storey building.
“I left the factory two hours before the blaze started,” said Laizu.
“I come to the school ground every day and the factory authorities note down my name. But no one gives me salary and compensation,” she lamented.
Among the demonstrators were family members of some of the workers still missing.
The salary and compensation of the missing workers should be given to their family members, as the factory authorities know the workers, said Anwarul Islam Arif, who lost his wife Rehena Begum, 26, in the fire.
“My wife was a known face at the factory. Everyone knew her as she had worked at Tazreen for the last three years,” said Anwarul, also a supervisor of Tazreen Fashions.