‘Bangla factory fire victims were locked inside’



Dhaka: Bangladesh's deadliest factory fire that claimed the lives of 111 workers was a case of arson in which the victims were prevented from escaping the inferno, a probe panel has concluded.

A week after a high-powered government investigation committee submitted its report into the November 24 tragedy, concluding that it was a case of sabotage, its chief said that the workers were told to stay inside for a 'fire drill' and were killed in the horrific blaze.

"It appeared to be a case of arson... It was sabotage when the victims were forced to stay inside to be burnt to death," chief of the four-member probe committee, Moin Uddin Khandker said.

Khandker, an additional secretary of the Home Ministry, said it took the inferno to take a deadly shape some 45 minutes after it broke out and "the culprits" asked workers to stay inside the factory, calling it a "fire drill" for safety practices.

"The iron gates were closed immediately (after the fire broke out) so the workers could not run out to safety and they (culprits) asked the workers to stay inside for 'fire drill'... If it was really a fire drill, it would have required the workers to evacuate the scene in quickest possible time," Khandker said.

He said the committee also reviewed labour relation issues but found that none of the workers was aggrieved or had any grievances against the owner or management for wage or any other factors.

Khandaker, however, did not suggest the motive despite speculation that the country's fast growing crucial garments sector was exposed to an international conspiracy.

His comments came a month after fire at Tazreen Fashions, which made clothing for Western retailers such as Walmart and C&A, killed 111 workers.

Officials familiar with the investigation process said the authorities are awaiting fire service investigations into the details of the incident, before taking a decision on the next course of action.

"We have got the government committee report and are now reviewing it... Actions will be followed soon after the review of all the findings is completed," home minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir said.

State Minister for Home Advocate Shamsul Haque Tuku supplemented Alamgir saying, "we will check all evidence into the fire alongside the official documents and the role of the factory management in ensuring the safety".

Soon after the fire police said they found clues of sabotage and arrested three officials and employees of the factory suspecting their involvement.

"They are now in jail awaiting trial as a case was filed in connection with the fire while (a separate) police investigation is underway into the blaze," officer in charge of Ashulia Police Station Badrul Alam said today.

Fire service officials earlier said their investigation found that the nine-storey factory lacked a valid safety licence and only had permission for three floors.

Fire service director general brigadier general (retd) Abu Nayem Mohammad Shahidullah said initial findings revealed that toxic smokes emitting from the highly flammable acrylic cotton blinded the workers, causing the tragedy.

Bangladesh witnessed massive workers protest after the incident. International labour activists said that global clothing brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Gap and those sold by Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.

PTI