Rana Plaza may have been the most deadly garment factory collapse in the history of Bangladesh, but it was not the first.
On April 11, 2005, the seven-storey Spectrum garment factory came down at Palashbari in Ashulia. As many as 63 workers were killed and 84 were injured, while two are still unaccounted for.
The stories of the survivors are eerily similar to the anguished accounts of those who escaped the far greater tragedy at Savar, eight years later.
“I was stuck for 15 hours under the rubble of the building (before) Fire Service and Civil Defence workers and army personnel rescued me,” former Spectrum worker Mozaffar told the Dhaka Tribune.
Mozaffar recalled the pained cries for help of Illias, one of his co-workers. “By the time the rescue team came, he had died.”
Nur Alam was pulled out alive after 16 hours under the rubble, but lost an arm and said the nightmare still haunts him. “I wake from my sleep when I recall the night of the tragedy,” he said.
Many of the victims were the only bread earners of their families, while some of the survivors will never fully recover from their injuries.
Despite this, the factory only gave a little amount of compensation to the families of the victims.
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Mozaffar, survivor of the Rana plaza collapse, who lost a leg in the incident Dhaka Tribune
“We got only Tk60,000 as compensation from the factory owner (and) were not rehabilitated or given any assistance from the government, either,” Mozaffar said. “The authorities did not arrange any employment for the maimed workers.”
A few years later, a four-storey garment factory named Gilden was constructed on the site of the collapsed building.
Explaining the development, Md Zakir Hossain, the government’s deputy inspector general for factories and establishments in Dhaka district, said the factory was not officially declared abandoned after it collapsed.
“That is why anybody can construct a new establishment by complying with the rules of the department,” he said. “However we have to investigate whether the Spectrum authorities have obeyed all the rules during the construction of the new building.”
Savar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Sheikh Rasel Hasan said they were unaware of the construction of gilden, a four-storey building, but would look into it. “The matter of constructing a factory is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments,” he said.
The factory’s administration officer, Mahbub Alam, told the Dhaka Tribune that Spectrum factory owner, Shariar Kabir, had received permission to construct a new building a few months after the 2005 collapse. “After 2010 the ownership changed,” he said.
Mozaffar said he contacted the owner after the new factory was built, but the management did not arrange any job for him.
His fellow survivor, Nur Alam, feels similarly rejected. “On hearing of the new factory I hoped to get a job there. I contacted the related authorities but nobody arranged a job for me,” he said.
Khairul Mamun Mintu, organizing secretary of Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre, said factory owner Shariar Kabir only gave a nominal compensation. “They did not rehabilitate or arrange jobs for the survivors,” he said.
Rights group Ain O Salish Kendra filed a case against Shariar Kabir in the aftermath of the 2005 collapse. However, neither the injured victims, nor workers rights bodies which have been struggling for the victims’ compensation, were aware of the case.
Among those left in the dark is Amirul Haque Amin, the president of the central committee of National Garment Workers Federation. “The government should have provided long term assistance to the victims,” he said.
Mintu said the owner is on bail in the case filed by Ain O Salish Kendra, although he could not give any further details on the current status of the case.
Savar Model police station Officer-in-charge Mohsinul Kadir also could say nothing about the case.