Every day we are being informed through various media about the loss of lives of innumerable innocent people in different kinds of accidents of disastrous nature throughout the country. In particular, road accidents and fire associated loss of lives have become the order of the day. It seems that it is increasing in every subsequent day. Besides, factory fire, building collapse, sinking of boats, steamers, launches and ferries have become common phenomenon in recent years in Bangladesh. Public outrages against deaths in road accidents have turned into movements participated by people from all walks of life in the recent past. The recent incidence of fire in a commercial building in Banani, an upscale area, in the city has claimed till now 25 human lives. The number is likely to increase as many of the victims are undergoing treatments in different hospitals of the city for injuries and burns. The collapse of the Rana Plaza in Savar claimed more than a thousand lives. Similarly, disaster in Tazreen Fashion and Tampaco factory buildings also claimed lives of many factory workers. Fire incidents in Nimtali and Chawakbazar only on the other day caused loss of many lives of the common men and women. River transports like boat, launch and steamer capsize while plying. These incidents are also quite common claiming lives of many. These sad and painful incidences have many adverse effects and implications. These include as mentioned earlier above all the loss of valuable lives, living with wounds and traumas, family disasters, business loss, destruction of properties and shaking of confidence of the wider section of the common people on mechanisms of safety and security. It is a common practice in our country that after every such incidences inquiry committees are formed by different concerned agencies of the government. In overwhelming cases, the reports of these inquiry committees are not published or see the light of the day for reasons unknown. However, in all these cases, among other issues, the role of the concerned institutions in general and the role of the regulatory agencies of the government in particular are looked into or reviewed. It revealed from sources that there were failures on the part of the regulatory agencies in discharging their assigned responsibility to enforce compliance particularly of the transport owners (road and river), drivers, factory and building owners. Here regulatory agencies primarily include Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipokkho (RAJUK), Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), City Corporations and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments. Here it needs to be mentioned the role of the Police is of particular importance for ensuring compliance in the road transport sector. These agencies and institutions are created to ensure compliance in their respective areas of jurisdiction. The RAJUK is responsible for approval of buildings under prescribed rules, regulations and designs. The BRTA’s responsibilities include issuance of fitness certificate, route permit, driving licenses etc., based on approved conditions and criterion. The BIWTA does similar functions like the BRTA only limited to river based transports and transportation system. The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments looks primarily about the health and safety aspects of mills and factories. On the other hand, the City Corporation also has the responsibility to oversee especially the safety aspects of the establishments that fall within its territorial jurisdiction. Here it needs to be pointed out that other than the City Corporation which is an elected institution all other are agencies or institutions are part of the government. After the incidences of accidents and disasters it generally reveals that there were non- compliances of different rules, regulations and codes. In the cases of disasters mentioned earlier, the responsibilities lied on the owners for flouting rules, regulations and building codes. At the same time, the regulating agencies miserably failed to ensure compliances especially those related with safety and security. Even when the deviation of the gravest natures were detected and identified these agencies failed to act upon decisively. The other pertinent question can obviously be raised how in the first place the regulations and approved codes, rules and regulations were flouted and whether these were committed in connivance with some relevant unscrupulous elements working with the regulating agencies. These seem to be true when flouting were detected why concrete actions for compliance or correction were not undertaken. In the case of the most recent fire incidence in FR Tower in Banani it revealed that there were over construction of several floors than the plan approved by the RAJUK and other safety measures that are required under the building coded were not complied with and compromises. These unforgiveable violations caused 25 lives and many more than that number suffered injuries and psychological traumas. In many cases, the surviving victims will have to live with these painful scars in rest of their lives. These also shattered the dreams, hopes and aspirations especially of the family members of the victims. It is not yet known, whether, at all, they are going to get any kind of compensation for such losses of the gravest nature. However, no word will be enough to depict the actual extent of the losses and miseries caused to the victims of such incidences. The tragedy is that they became victims for no fault of them rather because of others especially the owners and different regulating and enforcement agencies. However, these kinds of disasters in most cases caused due to human faults must not be allowed to continue any more. Concerted and decisive actions are now needed to be taken immediately without any further loss of time. If delay is caused, it will again take toll on human lives somewhere else in some other forms. The regulatory agencies like the RAJUK, BRTA, BIWTA, City Corporations and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments should be held responsible for failures on their part in ensuring compliances of various types especially related to safety and security. If unscrupulous quarter are identified having roles in flouting rules and regulations and codes in connivances with the owners of the establishments should be tried and brought to justice. This will set examples that one cannot get away with crimes that cause loss of lives and cause unbearable miseries to innocent people. At the same time, concrete actions should be undertaken to increase the capacities of the regulating and enforcement agencies. Similarly, capacity building of the Fire Service is also of utmost importance. The Fire Service Department should be equipped with state of the art fire fighting machineries and logistics. Rules and regulations relating to compliances also need to be updated to suit the need of the time to address the ever changing scenario in the country. The government needs to shoulder this responsibility and initiate appropriate actions without further delay. The civil society and different professional bodies also should put pressure on the government and the concerned stakeholders especially the owners to ensure compliance of the codes and rules and regulations. However, without lawful exemplary punitive actions for flouting especially safety measures the desired level of compliance will not be achieved.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude).
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh.