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Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

There is every sign that the investigation probe of the Rana Plaza tragedy would soon enter into a no-man’s land. That means we’ll never learn the host of failures that led to this unimaginable disaster.

In the wake of Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster, public anger has justifiably been focused on Sohel Rana, who deserves the most severe punishment for what would qualify as “crimes against humanity.”

But it was not too difficult to see that an exclusive focus on prosecuting the building owner and a few corrupt officials would not solve the systemic problems that lead to industrial catastrophes in Bangladesh.

45_Rana Plaza Collapse_Savar_Day 6_280413
Photo: bdnews24.com

There is no conclusive victory in capturing and parading the prime accused in front of the media, unless a hawkish investigation of the disaster itself is undertaken. Exactly how and why it happened—from human faults to administrative negligence to the building’s structural failure—followed by a concrete set of factory safety recommendations. This is, and should be, a standard practice in any functional society.

This leads us to consider the culture of tadonto (probe) committees typically formed in the wake of manmade disasters in Bangladesh. These committees ride on the passion of popular anger. But they routinely disappear from the public view as soon as the anger subsides.

As we have seen in the past, serious probes often do not provide lucrative political dividends or financial rewards. So there is very little genuine interest in the truthful examination of a disaster. Thus, the public rarely see any objective and dispassionate postmortem of industrial mishaps. Till today we do not know why workers could not be saved during the Tazreen fire last November and what safety measures were undertaken to avoid Tazreen-type infernos. The Spectrum collapse in 2005, too, remains a big question mark.

The tadonto committee scenario after the Rana Plaza tragedy was all too predictable. The Home Ministry, the Ministry of Commerce and the Dhaka District Administration formed three separate probe committees. In addition, Bangladesh’s Cabinet also created a high-profile committee to inspect factory safety measures in the country.

Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

But all the committees were led by “insiders.” For instance, the Cabinet-mandated inspection committee was chaired by a State Minister. The Home Ministry’s five member panel was headed by an Additional Secretary. An Additional District Magistrate led the Dhaka District Administration-formed seven-member panel. Why so many committees? Did they collaborate? Where are the reports they promised to publish within weeks?

And, excuse me, have you heard about something called the conflict of interest? Why should we believe the officials who themselves are part of the systemic problems in industrial regulation, oversight, and workplace safety enforcement? And, what autonomy do these government-appointed probe bodies have to deviate from the convenient official narrative of how the disaster happened?

Given our political culture, the tadonto committees are expected to produce stories convenient for the unholy alliance of the political mafia, government officials, and influential garment factory owners.

The Tazreen fire was sabotage, we were told. Was it? The tadonto committees are generally expected not to jeopardize the profit-at-any-cost arrangements within the RMG industry because many factory owners are members of the parliament or politically influential.

Photo: bdnews24.com
Photo: bdnews24.com

It is immensely lucrative not to perturb the national cash cow.

In the interim, today’s poor dies, tomorrow’s poor fills in the factory’s vacancy. So, there’s no real pressure on tadonto committees.

We demand one INDEPENDENT probe committee for the Rana Plaza disaster. It should consist of a trustworthy civil-society member, an independent technical expert on industrial safety standards and building codes, a legal expert on industrial workplace, an historian knowledgeable about landmark industrial disasters, and an acceptable member of the concerned urban administration. Also include an international expert, recommended by global labour rights organizations. Make the report available online within a month.

Laws, if any, pertaining to rental spaces should be revisited. How come the BRAC Bank rented space at Rana Plaza? Given its international reputation, it is entirely reasonable to ask why BRAC rented space in a building that visibly violated building codes and illegally stacked up three extra floors. Did the BRAC official in charge over there demand to see Rana Plaza’s building permit?

Oversimplifying the vast problem of Bangladesh’s recurring industrial calamities as the despicable action of a few bad apples would only blunt our ability to demand change in the network of malpractices that make a disaster like Rana Plaza’s inevitable.

We should be asking a lot of questions. Why don’t RAJUK and other urban agencies have an adequate number of building inspectors despite the presence of nearly 5000 garment factories in Bangladesh? What level of accountability does BGMEA demand, if at all, from its members? What stops the government from spearheading an action agenda for enforcing safety standards in factories? Would a socially responsive business campaign dispel the prevailing myth that factory owners can’t afford the cost of safety measures due to narrow profit margins? Would an international campaign of consumer activism compel international retailers like Walmart to share the costs of installing safety measures in Bangladeshi factories? And, is it time to promote a healthy culture of labour unions with the spirit of safeguarding basic labour rights, while keeping partisan politics out of factories?

The Rana Plaza tragedy should not be remembered as the villainy of Sohel Rana or the resilience of Reshma alone. It should act as a reminder that factory disasters could be easily avoided. The corrupt culture of tadonto committees must change. We owe it to the factory workers who were misled to sacrifice their lives at the altar of an economic growth that often does not trickle down to them.

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Adnan Morshed is an associate professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

11 Responses to “The follies of tadonto committees”

  1. Hasan Mahmood

    Adnan Morshed once again blasts at the whole system in Bangladesh in his recent article on “Savar Tragedy”. Excellent observation specially where he writes “And, excuse me, have you heard about something called the conflict of interest? Why should we believe the officials who themselves are part of the systemic problems in industrial regulation, oversight, and workplace safety enforcement?” This “conflict of interest” is what I call a “culture of impunity” in Bangladesh. Great article that points you to the core of the problems in Bangladesh. Please keep writing Mr. Morshed and “blast” at them more.

  2. Hasan

    Adnan Morshed once again blasts at the whole system in Bangladesh in his recent article on “Savar Tragedy”. Excellent observation specially where you wrote “And, excuse me, have you heard about something called the conflict of interest? Why should we believe the officials who themselves are part of the systemic problems in industrial regulation, oversight, and workplace safety enforcement?” This “conflict of interest” is what I call a “culture of impunity” in Bangladesh. Great article that points you to the core of the problems in Bangladesh. Please keep writing Adnan Morshed and “blast” at them more.

  3. Mira

    Let’s not let the culprits get away this time. More than 1100 people have perished. They and their mourning family deserves justice.

  4. Rezaul Karim

    In the next five years Garment sector of Bangladesh is poised to make an export volume of over $40 billion per annum. We owe it to the 3500 victims of Savar tragedy to make effective remedies in the safety standards. I will mention some relevant points which have not come up in the media.

    There are three ministries (Public Works, LGED and Roads and Highways) that are run exclusively by Civil/Structural Engineers and there are many public and private universities that are giving Civil engineering degrees. There are also many Civil engineering consultants. When a Civil engineering crisis occurs, like the Savar tragedy, everyone rushes to BUET only. There is a general perception that it is no use going to engineers outside BUET and the perception is correct. The Civil engineers in BUET are good at Building structural design (there are also a few good structural design engineers with consultants outside of BUET). The number of engineers of BUET may not be enough to handle the huge number of large buildings coming up in the Garments sector and elsewhere. The Civil Engineers of the three ministries (Public works, LGED and Roads and Highways) are good in High Tech construction, which is also very important. Civil Engineering profession has two divisions, High tech structural design and High tech construction. We have sufficient number of Civil engineers but we have very few good structural design civil engineers. I am suggesting that there may be a volume gap in good structural design civil engineering education in Bangladesh. Good civil engineering education and research may not have been disseminated from BUET to other universities and ministries. Appropriate Civil engineering education and research should be expanded to handle the future challenges.

    Vibration causes significant damage to concrete buildings and bridges over a period of time. The cracked up Jamuna bridge can take the load of a train but it cannot bear the vibration from a fast moving train. It is observed that BGMEA has directed large machineries and generators be moved to the ground floors to give some safety from vibration. Vibration reduction for all large and small machines can be done by using Damper pads and springs. Some of the larger machines already come with factory made vibration dampers. Crude vibration dampers can be made locally from foam rubber and steel sheets.

    A good number of buildings in the suburbs of Dhaka and in the rural areas will experience ground subsidence, foundation failure and cracks, especially in the months of March and April. This may be caused by ground water depletion at a depth of 200 to 300 feet, due to the wide use of submersible pumps. Six companies in Bangladesh are already producing submersible pumps and its use is growing at an alarming rate.

    Fire safety of Garments factories should be improved by using proper smoke and fire proof fire stairs, smoke detecters, cctv, dry and wet hydrants, fire pumps, sprinkler systems, occassional fire drills and helicopter rescues. By now some company should be making good fire proof doors in Bangladesh. (but it is not happening)

  5. russel

    Justice delayed justice denied. it will be proven once again.Let’s see..
    Thanks for well articulated column.

  6. Wasim N

    Adnan Morshed has spoken our mind. But will anyone pay heed?

  7. Rabaul

    Yes, a neutral probe committee is a must. We want proper justice.

  8. Nurul Hoque

    You are absolutely right Mr Adnan. There’s no meaning of having a ‘todonto’ committee that consists of political people only and not relevant personalities. Otherwise it is such a wastage of time, effort as well as public money. And worst of all, the victims are unlikely to get any justice while the offenders are most likely to walk away without paying for their crime.

  9. akhtar Shah

    Questions are raised, answers are available within nano second of them being asked. Here is the big BUT, who is going to implement these answers and continue monitoring with transparency? The answer is no one. But this should nto stop good souls from asking these questions, otherwise the ruling classes get a freer hand!.

    Without sounding retaliatory, it would be nice to hear the actions taken against of the “murderers” form the Spectrum and Tazreen factories! Did they get away with their dastardly deeds? I reckon so, their Political masters saw to their well-being.

    But still one lives in hope, one day.. may be one day.. Life in BD will have some tiny amount of value!

  10. Rifi

    Sohel Rana palyed a villain by deciding on the destiny of the poor factory workers. Greed overtook common sense. It is a good idea to show his face over and over in the media, because he is the face of evil. After such a tragedy it is imperative that the tale of his greed is retold and the tenacity of Reshma is highlighted. Otherwise people tend to forget that such an unavoidable tragedy happened. Redaing Reshma’s story gives people hope and restore their faith that miracles do happen.

  11. Sheuli

    Thank you Mr. Morshed for raising all these questions. It is obvious that we’ll not get any answer or resolution from our Government or the system. Rather we might get a new paint over the junk! To our Politicians, promises are made only to win the election and grab the power and we the unfortunate, only hope for the best again and again.

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