A readymade garment factory in Ashulia was forced to suspend its operations after a devastating fire ravaged it on Saturday night, leaving more than 5,000 of the workers without jobs.
At least eight workers were injured when they tried to escape the fire that originated from the first floor of the eight-storey Medlar Apparels Limited at Narsinghapur, on the outskirts of Dhaka.
“More than 5,000 workers work in the factory but most of them had left before the fire occurred," Medlar Manager (admin) Tareque Hasan told the Dhaka Tribune. "No-one was seriously injured."
The authorities said the factory would resume production after getting approval from BUET expert team that has been examining the factory.
Tareque said he was not sure when the factory would reopen. "It may take time," he said. "We are waiting for the BUET report."
It has left the workers staring at an uncertain future with their families. Many workers expressed worries over their jobs while others demanded to find out the reasons behind repeated fire incidents in RMG industries.
Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of RMG products after China. The sector has plagued by lax safety measures, poor working conditions and incidents of fires. But low labour cost continues to draw global brands to the South Asian country.
After the Tazreen factory fire preceding the Rana Plaza collapse, that killed over 1,100 workers, the government took various initiatives to improve the working conditions in the factories.
Josna Begum, who worked at the folding section, told the Dhaka Tribune: “We got our last month’s salary on Saturday and left the factory at 8pm, just an hour before the fire broke out. be we will be able to manage our families for this month but we do not know what will happen if the factory remains closed for more than a month."
Another worker Biplob Sheikh said: “We earn our livelihood by working in RMG factories but repeated fire incidents pose a threat for us. The government and concerned authorities must find out the reason behind these incidents and ensure a safe working environment.”
Committee formed to investigate the fire
A three-member committee, led by Fire Service Deputy Director Debashish Bardhan, has been formed to look into the fire on Sunday.
The committee also includes Deputy Assistant Director Mamun Mahmud and Senior Station Officer (EPZ) Abdul Hamid, Debashish told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We will start our investigation within a day or two,” he added.
Debashish said they were yet to determine the fire's cause but hoped to clarify everything after investigation.
Tareque said they estimate the loss to run beyond Tk100 crore.
“We doubt we will be able to resume production in this building. We have to incur more loss if our production remains suspended for a long time,” he added.
One detained, but no case filed yet
Although police have detained one Helal on suspicion of being the man behind the fire, the factory authorities are yet to file a case over the incident, Ashulia police station’s Officer-in-Charge (OC) Abdul Awal told the Dhaka Tribune.
Manager Tareque said their security forces detained Helal, an outsider, from the factory compound soon after the fire had broke out and handed him over to police.
“The management will decide whether or not to file a case,” Tareque said.
Md Khorshed Alam, additional police super of Savar circle told the Dhaka Tribune that the detainee claimed to be a worker of the factory but failed to show his ID card.
"We found a packet of cigarette and a match box on him although smoking was prohibited in the compound,” Khorshed said.
Police are currently interrogating Helal.
According to sources, Helal, son of Idris Majhi from South Jurkathi under Nolchhiti Upazila in Jhalkathi district, has completed his Dakhil examination from South Jurkathi Ezazia Dakhil Madrasa.
Police claimed that he came to Ashulia last Thursday from Jhalkathi. Police have contacted Nolchhiti police station to get more information about him.
Ashulia police OC Awal said: “Legal action will be taken against Helal if he is found guilty.”
Helal's parents declined to comment.