LAST Saturday's tragic loss of human lives at Tejgaon in the capital city from a building collapse is another tragedy that has struck swiftly in the wake of the Chittagong fire incident in a garment factory that also caused the very sad deaths of many workers. In the case of the building collapse at Tejgaon, the victims were mainly construction workmen at the fringes of existence. They were mainly day labourers who toil very hard for a very modest daily wage for their own sustenance and that of the dependants of their families. In both cases, the ruined structures are symbolic of the utter lack of concern of the so-called entrepreneurs or employers who play with the lives of these very poor people who are forced to work in conditions that pose a threat to their lives.
The destroyed building at Tejgaon was used as a garments factory only a short time ago. Its owner only recently had the premises vacated by its garment-operator tenant to modify the building for another purpose. If the garment factory continued to have an existence there, a far greater number of human beings would probably be killed at Tejgaon. At any rate, the loss of lives point to the urgency of regulatory actions in two areas : making it impossible to erect or maintain physically risky buildings through appropriate oversight measures and enforcement of the law strictly so that developers and employers are obliged to respect their obligation in respect of ensuring working conditions to provide proper physical and mental security to their workers.
It is not that there is no building or construction code to be followed in building new structures or renovating the existing ones. There are ample guidelines in the code to be followed and the Rajdhani Unnanyan Katripakha (RAJUK) is entrusted with the tasks of monitoring the same in order to prevent its violation leading to building or renovating buildings that may be risky in the physical sense. The RAJUK also has the powers to demolish such buildings considered as posing risks to their occupants or others. Besides, it was also empowered long ago to identify and help in the demolition of very old and risky buildings in different parts of the city. But it is well known that this body is shot through with corruption that has meant its virtually taking no action in these areas. Even the files containing various correspondences relating to demolition of such risky and dilapidated buildings are found to be missing very often than not at the RAJUK office.
Thus, the first step towards a change for the better can be essentially taken by the RAJUK itself. It should be sensitized by the latest incident of the building collapse and the tragic deaths to play its part in preventing further such tragedies. If not, then this body will have to be prodded out of its slumber by higher authorities in the government. In going for the razing down of old buildings, the RAJUK should follow a careful plan of giving advance notices to their occupants, providing them with alternative dwellings or devising a plan with the House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC) and other bodies so that the owners of the risky ones can build new structures in place of the demolished building with loans received on easy terms.
The other extremely important aspect of enforcing the law in respect of maintaining proper working conditions for workers needs to be pursued by the relevant ministry and its affiliated bodies with real determination and rigour. Directive should come from the highest level of the government to this end and it should be followed up to make sure that the directive is not taken lightly but acted upon with due seriousness.