Rights activists and worker leaders yesterday rejected the sabotage theory of a government probe committee on the Tazreen fire and termed its report incomplete and contradictory.
They demanded a fair probe by an independent body so that the culprits cannot go scot-free like in the past.
The four-member probe team, headed by Additional Secretary Main Uddin Khandaker, submitted a 214-page report to the home ministry Monday evening.
The report, which made five final recommendations, came about three weeks after the deadly blaze killed 112 people at Tazreen Fashions Ltd in Ashulia on November 24.
The committee said the incident was an act of sabotage and further probe was needed to find the motives and masterminds.
Sultana Kamal, executive director of rights body Ain o Shalish Kendra (ASK), questioned the report as it completely failed to dig out who did the “sabotage”, how and why.
“If it was sabotage, the owner should be sympathised, not blamed.”
She said the probe report as well as the first information report (FIR) by police echoes the views of government high-ups who came up with a sabotage theory soon after the incident.
Sultana, a former caretaker government adviser, demands an independent body to investigate the Tazreen tragedy.
After submitting the report on Monday, Main Uddin Khandaker explained why his team thought it was an act of sabotage. "There was no possibility of fire originating from an electric short-circuit, as there was no electric wire close to the place. It came from outside.”
But Kalpana Akhter, executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity, yesterday told The Daily Star that she had seen a sub-station and a generator only three feet off the warehouse on the ground floor.
“I'm not surprised to see the word sabotage [in the report] as it was what the government ministers said a day after the incident,” said the worker leader.
Terming the report biased, Mushrefa Mishu, president of Garment Workers Unity Forum, criticised the government for not taking actions against the owner of Tazreen Fashions yet.
“The government probe report held the owner responsible for gross violations of compliance rules, but he is yet to be arrested.”
Both Kalpana Akhter and Mushrefa Mishu said the report was full of contradictions, a claim Main Uddin Khandaker denies.
“The report has explained why it was sabotage and at the same time blamed the owner for his gross violations of rules,” he said.
The main gate, the only entry and exit point of the factory was found locked just after the fire started, exposing the fleeing workers to smoke and suffocation.
Who closed down the gate and why, questioned the additional secretary, reasoning out his sabotage theory.
Md Nur Khan, director, investigation and documentation unit of ASK, said, “The government should have sealed the factory soon after the incident and arrested the owner, but it was not done even after nearly one month.”
The High Court in 1997, following ASK's writ petition over a Mirpur garment factory fire, ordered the government to form a national committee to ensure safety in factories. But no such committee has yet been formed.
Nur Khan said successive governments had always tried to brand these incidents as a result of conspiracy and never tried to punish the culprits.
“Negligence and profiteering attitude of owners have led to these accidents,” he said. The ASK director also opposed the probe committee's suggestion regarding further investigation by intelligence agencies.
“There are examples that intelligence agencies have misled the government. They have always said accidents and unrest resulted from conspiracies but never been able to dig it out.”
However, Main Uddin said, “We are not equipped enough to deal with all issues. After all, I've my regular office works.”
About the role of government regulators, he admitted their failure and said an engineer had been held responsible for faulty design of the Tazreen building.
Also yesterday, Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said they, too, have also doubt over the Tazreen Fashions fire.
“We have to find the answer as to why factory managers restricted the workers to leave the factory floors even after the fire alarm rang.”
He said that together with labour representatives, BGMEA was probing the fire to find out if there was any mistake on the part of the owner. The probe report is expected within a week.