Around 1,138 lives were lost in the tragic incident but the wait for justice has not yet ended
Six years have elapsed since the Rana Plaza building collapse, but the trial of two cases—filed over Bangladesh’s deadliest industrial disaster—is yet to begin.
Around 1,138 lives were lost in the tragic incident but the wait for justice has not yet ended.
Two cases—one under the penal code filed on charges of killing over 1,000 people, and another for violating building codes—were filed over the incident.
In 2016, two separate Dhaka courts framed charges in the cases but they failed to record testimonies of witnesses due to legal complexities.
Of the accused, only building owner Sohel Rana is currently in jail, while the other 32 are out on bail. Six accused are still on the run, while two of the accused died before they could be tried in the case.
The nine-storey building—which housed several factories—came crashing down on the morning of April 24, 2013, leaving 1,138 people dead and over 1,169 injured in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Different rights bodies, workers organizations, and leftist political parties will observe the 6th anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse today.
What is the status of the cases?
In June, 2015, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) submitted two charge sheets—one for murder and the other for violating building codes— against 42 accused, including Sohel Rana.
Sohel Rana, his parents Abdul Khaleque and Morjina Begum, and 34 others were charged for the deaths of the workers. Four others were also charged for sheltering Sohel Rana and helping him flee.
On July 18, 2016, the Dhaka District and Sessions judge court framed charges against 41 accused—including Sohel Rana and his parents—in the case filed under the penal code over the deaths of the workers.
The court was to begin recording depositions on September 18, 2016, but could not due to legal complexities.
Later, the court set 18 dates to start recording depositions but again failed to do so due to the time petitions filed by the prosecution and defence lawyers on various grounds.
Court sources said the High Court had issued stay orders on trial proceedings of eight accused following the petitions filed by the accused, challenging the legality of their indictments in the murder case.
Later, the High Court lifted the stay orders of six accused but the six-month stay order for the two others accused—Refatullah and Mohammad Ali Hossain—is yet to be removed.
Allegations have been brought against prosecution lawyers for not taking measures to push the disposal of the stay order and for not being cordial to complete the trial.
Refusing negligence, Dhaka District and Sessions Judges Court Public Prosecutor (PP) Khandaker Abdul Mannan told Dhaka Tribune: “We are waiting for the stay order against two accused to be removed.
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“Once the High Court stay order is lifted, we can start recording the depositions of witnesses.”
On July 18, 2016, Dhaka Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court framed charges against 18 accused—including Sohel Rana—in the case filed over building code violations.
However, the court is yet to start recording depositions in the case as four accused RMG factory owners—Aminul Islam, Anisur Rahman, Bazlus Samad and Mahmudur Rahman—submitted revision petitions, challenging their indictment.
On June 3, 2018, Dhaka Second Additional Sessions Judge Court discharged Aminul after disposing of his revision petition.
The hearing in Anisur’s revision petition was completed on February 26, this year, and now the verdict is pending with the Dhaka Bankruptcy Court.
The other two RMG owners—Samad and Rahman—filed appeals with the High court after their revision petitions were rejected on April 10, 2017. Orders of their appeals are still pending.
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Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court’s Special Public Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul told Dhaka Tribune: “We will start recording depositions once the revision petitions are disposed of.”
Legal experts said it will not be possible to finish the trial rapidly if the prosecution does not take special initiatives to complete it. A total of 724 people have been made witnesses in the cases.
“We also want a quick trial because my client [Sohel] is already serving a jail term,” Sohel Rana’s lawyer Faruk Ahamed told Dhaka Tribune.
51% survivors unemployed
According to a recent survey by Action Aid Bangladesh, 51% of survivors are unable to work due to physical and mental trauma caused by the building collapse.
The survey said the number of unemployed Rana Plaza collapse survivors was 42% two years ago.
Action Aid revealed the survey findings at a research sharing event titled "Commemorating the 6th Anniversary of the Rana Plaza Building collapse" in Dhaka last week.
In the survey, conducted on 200 survivors, Action Aid found that the percentage of traumatized survivors decreased to 10.5% from 22.5% this year.
Currently, 68.5% have reported that they are stable while 21% were reported to have fully recovered.
Muzhat Jabin, manager of Action Aid Bangladesh, said: "This year, we found that the condition of 20% of survivors is getting worse.”
She said survivors change their work frequently as they cannot work for longer hours due to their physical condition.
Action Aid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir, said: “Compensation is a human right. If compensation had been fully paid on time, then the present number of incapacitated workers would have been lower.”
“Compensation did not help them in any way because it was not paid all together," she added.
Dr Khondokar Golam Moazzem, research director at the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said he had hoped that the situation had improved after six years.
He said: "However, sadly, the situation seems to have deteriorated. The promise of helping the survivors has not been met, especially in the matter of compensation. Despite the High Court’s directive, it was not implemented."
Sohel Rana, his mother jailed in ACC cases
On August 22, 2017, a special court in Dhaka sentenced Sohel Rana to three years imprisonment in a case filed for not submitting his wealth statement to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
The court also fined him Tk50,000; in default, he will have to serve an additional three months in jail.
The same court, on March 29, 2018 sentenced Sohel Rana’s mother Marjina Begum, to six years jail and fined her Tk10, 000 in the ACC case filed for hiding wealth information.
ACC lawyer Rafiqul Islam said the court also ordered one-third of her illegally-amassed assets be confiscated.