Hundreds of industrial units, including the fire-struck Tazreen garments factory, have been constructed in the rural areas of Ashulia violating building code and the capital's master plan, according to officials and documents.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan (DMDP), also known as the master plan, covers up to the Dhaleshwari River in the region, Ashulia and beyond. The plan does not permit factories in the “so-called” Ashulia industrial district, including Nischintapur, Narasinghapur, Jamgora and Jirabo areas on the capital's outskirts, said Rajuk officials.
These areas, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), were designated for homesteads and croplands, not industries, said Rajuk board member Sheikh Abdul Mannan.
The said areas came under the control of Rajuk since 1987 and definitively with the master plan since 1997.
Yet hundreds of various factories including around 500 readymade garment units have been set up there. Although mandatory, owners of these factories had neither obtained the land-use clearance nor the building appro-val from Rajuk, said Mannan.
The eight-storey building of Tazreen Fashions Ltd, which on November 24 experienced the worst factory fire in the country's history, was constructed on a narrow pathway in Nischintapur village without Rajuk's approval. The mandatory safety provisions as per the national building code and construction rules had been grossly violated there, said Mubasshar Hussein, president of Institute of Architects Bangladesh.
The dreadful fire in Tazreen killed 112 workers, primarily because there were no emergency or fire exits in the building. Besides, three staircases there end within the building on the ground floor where huge stacks of garment materials lay stored making any rush for the exit difficult.
The national building code requires a high-rise building like Tazreen to have safety compliances like emergency exits, fire-resistant doors, dedicated water reservoirs for fighting fire, easy access for fire engines and alternative power supply, etc.
Tazreen factory lacks all of these, said Mubasshar. He blamed the sheer negligence of different government agencies concerned and lack of supervision for the tragedy.
Although Rajuk was responsible for controlling development in areas under the DMDP, it had shown utter apathy to its duties, added Mubasshar.
Rajuk Chairman Md Nurul Huda, however, attributed their failure in supervising development beyond the core city areas to lack of manpower.”
Prof Sarwar Jahan, teacher of urban and regional planning at Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology, termed the Rajuk excuse unacceptable, saying that the eight-storey factory of Tazreen Fashions had been there for several years.
If Rajuk wanted, it could have assigned an official to visit the factories there at some point of time or could have outsourced a firm as a stopgap solution until it got the required manpower, said the professor. “Rajuk can't just sit on the manpower-shortage excuse and ignore its duty for years.”
Prof Jahan observed that the industries set up flouting urban plan and regulatory laws would continue to put workers' lives at stake, as it did in Ashulia. The government has to ensure industrial set up at designated zones as per the master plan with dedicated safety measures in place, he added.
Meanwhile, despite repeated attempts The Daily Star could not reach owner of Tazreen factory Delwar Hossain over the phone for his comments on compliance.
ROLE OF CHIEF FACTORY INSPECTOR
The office of Chief Inspector of Factory and Establishment is also responsible for ensuring workers' overall safety and welfare at factories as per the labour law.
Although the office issued licence to Tazreen factory, it failed to ensure workers' safety owing to no effective inspection.
Mohammad Obaidul Islam, a deputy chief inspector of factories, said they could not deliver due to manpower shortage.
He said nearly 40 percent posts of the 314-staff chief inspector's office had been lying vacant. They were supposed to have 103 inspectors but in reality they had only 52 to oversee more than 26,000 registered factories across the country.
There were only 13 inspectors out of the approved 29 to look after 14,000 registered factories in Dhaka division, he added.
In June 2010, the chief inspector's office placed a 2,271-member manpower organogram including 1,500 inspectors, but the government is yet to respond to the proposal.