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“It was my fault,” said Delowar Hossain, managing director of Tazreen Fashion Ltd, yesterday.
“But nobody told me that there was no emergency exit which could be made accessible from outside. Nobody even advised me to install one like that, apart from the existing ones,” he argued in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star, for the first time since the deadly fire killed 111 workers at his factory on Saturday.
“I could have done it. But nobody ever suggested that I do it.”
While Delowar was apparently shaken by the tragedy, he did not announce any compensation for the families of the deceased, nor did he clearly express any sympathy for them, at least not in public.
Besides shouldering the entire responsibility for the incident, Delowar also blamed others for the tragedy -- at least partly. He alleged that the officials of the labour department had visited his factory several times, but they had not raised any question about the exit routes.
It was the social compliance audit of the retail giant Walmart that complained only about the excess working hours at the factory. “But we have rectified the problem after receiving the complaint,” he claimed.
The retailer did not complain about the absence of any emergency exit from outside, Delowar said, adding that it did not even raise any objection over having a warehouse on the ground floor in the same building and near the staircase.
“Now I can understand it was my fault and I realise it at a time when more than a hundred lives have been lost,” said Delowar.
A total of 1,137 workers, out of 1,163, were present in the factory when the incident occurred. The factory has a space of 1.40 lakh square feet.
Delowar started his own garment business in March 2004 by setting up Tuba Textiles Mills Limited with two production lines. Ashulia-based Tazreen Fashion is a sister concern of Tuba Group.
He made his fortune with the garments business by setting up a dozen units since 2004. Earlier, his career began as an accounts manager at Latest Garment in 1989.
Delowar refuted the claim that the fire had originated from an electric short circuit on the ground floor. “It is not true, as there was no electric point over there,” he asserted.
“Of course, I believe it is sabotage and therefore, a pre-planned incident. We are looking for some officials who were present during the incident and now cannot be traced,” he said.
Among the officials, Mubarak Hossain Manju, production manager, was on the fourth floor during the incident; while Mohammad Dulal, quality manager, was on the third floor though his seating arrangement was on the fifth floor. Abdur Razzak, factory manager, was on the third floor although his designated desk was on the fifth floor, mentioned Delowar.
“If they are found, they can tell us why the workers were barred from leaving the second, third and fourth floors after the first fire alarm had rung,” he said.
Denying the allegation of locking the collapsible gates from outside during the incident, the owner said: “The gates were never locked. They always remain open.”
He also explained that the warehouse was set up on the ground floor to facilitate the loading and unloading of raw materials.
Asked if it was a violation of rules having a warehouse on the ground floor and adjacent to the staircases, he only replied: “Now I can realise many things.”
He also admitted that the fire extinguishers did not work. “The workers panicked rather than use the fire extinguishers. Every worker was trained to use it,” he claimed.
Earlier in the day, The Daily Star reached Delowar, who was thrust into the spotlight over the nation's deadliest factory fire in history.
He shared much of his personal and business information but denied some of the allegations that have been raised after the mayhem.
The first issue, on his being a Canadian citizen, Delowar claimed: “I never went to Canada, let alone having the citizenship. No one can find a Canadian visa on my passport … Anyone can search with the Canadian embassy.
“Even a media report cited that I am an Italian citizen. I do not know how and where they got the information, which is completely baseless,” he said.
Earlier at noon, a visit to the group's corporate office adjacent to Gulshan Circle-1 revealed that the entry doors were locked.
The lone security guard, Nurul Islam, was walking to and fro in the apartment building, Esprit, a six-storeyed building facing Gulshan Lake.
“Four to five employees came to the office in the morning, but then left immediately,” said Islam, adding that around 60 employees work in the head office.
Delowar, however, claimed that the head office was open and the employees were working inside after locking the doors “to avoid any untoward incident”.