Although police have pressed charges in court against a number of accused in two cases filed over the Rana Plaza collapse, the trial proceedings are yet to start.
Bangladesh was struck by its worst industrial disaster five years ago, when the multi-storey building caved in on the outskirts of Dhaka on April 24, killing 1,136 people, mostly readymade garment workers.
Bangladesh has always attracted foreign clothing brands with cheap and efficient labour. The country is the second largest exporter of RMG products after China. Although RMG export contributes a large sum in Bangladesh’s export earnings, the sector has been rife with low pay and poor working conditions.
The incident, which came shortly after a deadly Tazreen fire in Ashulia, put the spotlight on the country’s poor safety standards in factories. It, however, prompted safety checks and the conditions in many factories have improved since then.
However, the victims and their families are still waiting for justice.
Bijoy Krishna Kar, who investigated the Rana Plaza collapse, submitted two charge sheets – one for murder and the other for building code violation.
Charges were pressed in court against 41 people, including building owner Sohel Rana, his parents and five factory owners, in the murder case while another charge sheet was submitted against 18 people over violation of building code.
According to the charge sheet, the CID found that Sohel Rana and management of the five factories had forced workers to enter the building against their will even though the building had developed major cracks a day before the collapse. That is why charges of murder instead of culpable homicide were brought against the 41 accused.
Of the accused, Rana, his parents and 34 others were charged with murder while four others were charged with helping Rana flee.
The probe report mentioned that 18 accused violated the building code by constructing four additional floors on top of the original five-storey building with substandard materials. The building also had structural flaws.
A total of 724 people were made witnesses in the cases.
In 2016, two separate Dhaka court framed charges against 42 accused including Rana and his parents in two cases. The trial was supposed to begin on September 18, 2016 but it never did.
The trial proceedings of seven accused were stayed by the High Court following writ petitions challenging the legality of the order for framing charges against them in the murder case.
The prosecution lawyers have allegedly made no move to vacate the stay order while they also did not produce witnesses.
Public Prosecutor Khandaker Abdul Mannan rejected the allegations, blaming the delay on “legal complexities.” He said they were waiting for suggestions from the attorney general for conducting the trial against rest of the accused in the case.
Rana’s lawyer Faruk Ahmed said they too wanted the trial to start but legal issues were obstructing the process.
The murder case is pending with Dhaka District and Sessions Judge Court. On July 18, 2016, the court framed the charges against 41 accused.
Afterwards, the court fixed 11 dates for starting recording depositions but it failed to do it due to time petitions by prosecution and defence lawyers on various grounds.
In the case filed over violation of building codes in the construction of Rana Plaza, Dhaka Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court on June 14, 2016, framed charges against Rana and 17 others.
The trial could not proceed as several revisions challenging the order for framing charges were pending with two sessions courts.
Meanwhile, most of the accused are now free on bail. Of them, seven are on the run, two are dead and Rana is in jail.