Although nine years have elapsed since the Rana Plaza collapse, there is no major breakthrough in the trial proceedings of two cases filed over the country’s deadliest industrial disaster.
The wait for justice is not going to be over anytime soon as there is no significant progress in the case filed on charges of killing more than 1,100 people.
Trial in another case filed on charges of violation of building codes in the construction of the nine-storey building is yet to begin.
The shoddily constructed commercial building at Savar on the outskirts of the capital came crashing down on the morning of April 24, 2013, leaving 1,138 people dead.
Different rights groups, workers’ organisations and leftist political parties will observe the 9th anniversary of Rana Plaza tragedy today when families of the victims and the survivors are living a miserable life.
Court sources said Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in June 2015 submitted two separate charge sheets — one for murder and the other for building code violation — against 42 accused, including building owner Sohel Rana.
Sohel Rana, his parents — Abdul Khaleque and Morjina Begum — and 34 others were charged with causing the death of the workers while four others were accused of sheltering Rana and helping him flee.
In 2016, two separate Dhaka courts framed charges against 42 accused in the two cases.
Following the charge-framing, the trial was supposed to begin on September 18, 2016 but the trial could not start due to a petition filed by the accused challenging the indictment.
The trial in the cases was stuck with two Dhaka courts for around six years due to High Court stay orders following petitions of the accused.
Of the accused, only Sohel Rana is now in jail while 31 are on bail and enjoying free life. Six other accused are still on the run and three died in the meantime.
As the charges were framed against all the accused on July 18, 2016, the Dhaka District and Sessions Judge’s Court asked the complainant to appear before it to testify in the case filed on murder charges.
But after the indictment order, eight accused, including then Savar municipality mayor Refayet Ullah and councillor Mohammad Ali Khan, filed writ petitions with the High Court challenging the indictment.
Following the petitions, the HC stayed all the proceedings of the case that year. The proceedings of the cases remained stalled since then because of the stay orders issued by the High Court.
After the High Court vacated the stay orders of all the accused on January 31 this year, a Dhaka court finally began recording testimony of prosecution witnesses in the murder case, around six years after the indictment.
The plaintiff of the case and then sub-inspector of Savar Police Station Wali Ashraf testified at the court of Dhaka District and Sessions Judge AHM Habibur Rahman Bhuiyan.
Talking to the correspondent, Additional Public Prosecutor Mizanur Rahman Sajal said the trial of the case was stuck for long due to the HC stay orders. But the recording of the deposition of witnesses in this case started in January this year after the HC vacated all the stay orders regarding the case.
He said, “First witness Wali Ashraf who was also plaintiff of the case gave deposition. A total of 594 people were made prosecution witnesses in the case.”
On July 18, 2016, the Dhaka Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court framed charges against 18 accused, including Sohel Rana, in the case filed for violation of building codes.
Almost six years have passed since the indictment but the court is yet to start recording deposition in the case due to revision petitions submitted by the accused challenging charge-framing against them in the case.
On November 8, 2021, the High Court stayed the trial proceedings until November 7, 2022 following a petition of the accused in the case, said Anwarul Kabir Babul, additional public prosecutor of the court.
“We’re trying our level best to start recording of deposition in the case but it got stuck due to legal complexities,” he said.
When asked about the stay order, Attorney General AM Amin Uddin said, “I was not aware of the case. As I was informed of the matter, now we’ll take necessary move regarding the Rana Plaza cases.”
The latest survey report of ActionAid Bangladesh shows that 56.5 percent of the Rana Plaza survivors have reported worsening physical condition against last year’s 14 percent.
According to the survey conducted on 200 survivors, the respondents complained of waist pain, headache, pain in hands and legs and back pain as some of the major problems.
The trend of previous surveys shows that the physical health status of the survivors was slowly improving but their sufferings got worse due to Covid-19. It is also revealed that 33 percent are more or less stable and 10.5 percent are completely stable.
In terms of psychosocial health, 48.5 percent are still in trauma in comparison to 12.5 percent last year. Currently, 31 percent reported that they are more or less stable and 20.5 percent have recovered fully compared to 25.5 percent last year.
The current unemployment rate of the survivors is 53 percent while 47 percent survivors are engaged in various types of work and self-employment. Among them, 67 percent are unemployed due to bad physical condition and 10 percent have mental trauma.
The survivors tend to change work frequently as their physical condition does not allow them to work for long at a time.
A big proportion of 51.5 percent said they could not pay their house rent, 22.5 percent could not afford childcare while 46.5 percent of the survivors had to take out a loan to manage their family’s food and other expenses during the pandemic.