Fire incidents are alarmingly common in Bangladesh, but not all of them are investigated. In 2016, at least 3,020 fire incidents were reported in Dhaka alone; the Fire Service and Civil Defence authorities looked into only 578 of them.
Of the 578 fire investigations, reports of around 12 were submitted to the government agencies concerned. None of them were made public.
Thursday’s fire in Dhaka’s Korail slum was the third major fire incident there in a year. Fire Service officials said they had submitted probe reports on the first two incidents at the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The ministry has neither published the findings of either of the reports, nor has it taken any visible action regarding the incidents.
In case of major fires, local administration or the ministry concerned form separate investigation teams. In many cases, those teams submit their own reports, but they are not followed up on either.
This lack of effective measures by the government has raised a few eyebrows. Dhaka South Mayor Sayeed Khokon is one of them.
Following the January 3 fire at Gulshan 1 DNCC market in Dhaka, Khokon attended a seminar on fire incidents in urban areas where he demanded that fire investigations reports be made public.
“Whenever a fire occurs, people wonder if it is a mere accident or a sabotage. Though the authorities concerned form probe committees, their reports are never published,” the mayor said. “If a fire is caused by sabotage, the case must be dealt with following due process.”
Asked why fire reports are almost never published, Fire Service Director Maj AKM Shakil Newaz said it was up to the ministries concerned.
“We are always careful about preparing a fire probe report without bias. Most of the time, the officials concerned complete and submit the reports. I do not know why they are not published,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Several probe committee members reiterated Shakil’s statement.
Rahenul Islam, additional district magistrate in Gazipur who led the team looking into the fire at Tampaco Foils Ltd factory on September 9 last year, said: “We submitted our report to the divisional administration to forward it to the Home Ministry. After that, I do not know what steps have been taken.”
Urban experts believe that, especially in the cases of high-profile fire incidents, there are groups with political or business influence who play a major role in keeping the findings of fire investigations under wraps.
“People with vested interests always slow down the investigation process after a major fire incident. Even if the probe committees prepare their reports, these people block them and they never come to light,” said Syed Ishtiaq Ahmad, civil engineering professor at Buet who was part of one of the probe committees looking into the DNCC market fire.
“But if the reports are published, both the victims and the law enforcement agencies can take legal actions,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.