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10 months on, charges yet to be pressed

Muktadir Rashid

Nearly 10 months have passed since the country witnessed its worst factory disaster in April 2013, but the police investigators are yet to submit charge sheets of the two cases related to the Rana Plaza building collapse in Savar in which at least 1,135 people, mostly women garment workers, were killed.
As the investigators were delaying submission of the charge sheets, the affected workers and labour rights leaders expressed doubt whether justice would be done in due time.
 ‘We expected that the trial would begin within six months after the disaster but it did not happen,’ said 28-year-old Al Amin, who has been staying in the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed in Savar for last 10 months with the pain from the injuries he had suffered in the building collapse.
The injured worker of Ether Tex factory which Rana Plaza had housed told New Age, ‘If the investigation needs so much time even after everything is cleared to all, then we are not sure how many years it will take to complete the trial.’
On the morning of April 24, 2013, the eight-storey Rana Plaza, which had housed five clothing factories, a shopping mall and a bank, came crashing down, leaving at least 1,135 people dead and about 2,000 injured.
The affected workers and their families, and labour rights groups continued pressing for justice and due compensation.
Labour rights organisation Garment
Sramik Trade Union Kendra’s general secretary Kazi Ruhul Amin also alleged that the government was delaying the process to the benefit of the factory owners.
‘Two owners have already been released although the charges are yet to be pressed,’ Ruhul said, adding that the government seemed to have retreated from the stand it had taken in favour of the workers immediately after the disaster.
The investigators earlier in October said that they would submit the charge sheets by December. 
On November 24, senior Judicial magistrate Kazi Shahidul Islam issued a show cause notice asking CID investigator Bijoy Krishna Kar to explain why he had failed to submit a probe report before the court by November 24 in the two cases.
The judicial magistrate also asked him to submit the probe report by December 24 but the investigator again failed to do so.
Following appeal by the investigators, the court, however, extended the time and set February 19 for submission of the report.
The investigators said the Criminal Investigation Department was scrutinising the case documents and it would take a few more weeks to press the charges.
‘Now, we are planning to submit the charge sheet by the middle of March,’ CID’s senior superintendent of police Bijoy Krishna Kar said when he was asked about the delay in investigations.
After the disaster, the police brought criminal charges against the owners of the building, including Sohel Rana, and the owners of the five clothing factories. Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha filed another case against the Savar municipality. The CID is investigating both the cases.
In addition, the family of a victim also filed a murder case with a Dhaka court.
The court, however, asked the CID authorities to investigate the victim family’s case together with the one filed by the police immediately after the incident.
The case filed by the police was under Section 304 (A) of the Code of Criminal Procedure but Section 304 was later applied to the first information report.
‘Now, we have enough evidence to press murder charge against the prime accused Sohel Rana and 30 others,’ said Bijoy Krishna, who is leading a 16-member investigation team.
He said that they had found the involvement of more than 30 people, including the accused already arrested and some other officials who were yet to be arrested, in the case filed by the police.
After examining reports of inquiries carried out after the incident and expert opinions, the CID official said that some officials of the Savar municipality and the civil administration had been arrested and some other officials, who also had a role in the incident, would be named accused in the cases.
The investigation has so far found that the building owners were extending the commercial building up to 10 storeys on the approved six storeys illegally by managing the approval from the authorities.
In the case filed by RAJUK, the CID would accuse at least 15 people, including the building owner, factory owners and the officials concerned for their negligence.
Government officials and the factory executives who forced the workers to go to work in the building even after knowing that it had developed cracks, have been identified, the investigators said.
The investigators so far arrested 21 people, including Sohel, also a Juba League leader at Savar, government engineers, local political leaders, and top executives of the factories that had collapsed.
Of the 21 arrested, the then Savar municipal mayor Refayetullah, then-commissioner Mahmud Ali Khan, and Abul Hasan, one of the associates of Sohel Rana, and Savar municipality engineer Emtemul Hossain, and two factory owners had obtained bail from the High Court.
Of the arrested, only three associates of Sohel Rana, arrested in Jessore, gave statements under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The CID has so far recorded statements of more than 1,000 people, including government officials, witnesses, victims and, experts from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, and executives from Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters’ Association.
Besides, the investigators collected television footage, newspaper clippings, and expert opinions as evidence.
‘We will make a short list of prosecution witnesses from among the victims, rescuers and officials concerned so that the trial could be completed in the shortest possible time,’ Bijoy said.  

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