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22 February, 2020 12:30:37 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 22 February, 2020 11:22:33 AM
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One year on, victims’ kins still wait for compensation

Churihatta fire
MUBTASIM FUAD, Dhaka
One year on, victims’ kins still wait for compensation

Faisal Sarwar, a car driver, used to live in his ancestral home at Haji Ballu Road in Chawkbazar. He stepped out one day last year to buy medicines from a pharmacy store in Churihatta, never to return. His house is just a short distance from the Wahed Mansion building in Chawkbazar's Churihatta area, where, on the night of February 20 last year, a chemical-fed fire claimed at least 71 lives. He died in that blaze.

Faisal Sarwar is survived by his widow Fatima Akhter and two daughters. Fatima told The Independent that they have no son. Their two daughters are in the ninth and tenth grades. After her husband's death, she has been staying in her father's house with their daughters. "My daughters are getting mature now. I have no source of income of my own. How long can I stay at my father's house with two growing daughters!" she asked. "When my husband died, several organisations promised to help. I heard that from everyone. But I just got the amount necessary to bury my husband. Now I’m in a dilemma. If no one comes forward to help us, then no one knows what my daughter's fate will be," she moaned in despair.

Again, Siddique Ullah, a shopkeeper, was killed in the same blaze. His son Ahsan said, "My father was the sole breadwinner for our four brothers, a sister and our mother. After my father’s death, two of my brothers had to cease their education and perforce take up jobs. The administration said it would help us in various ways. That promise turned out to be hollow. We got nothing! Nobody contacted us!”

Not just these two families, The Independent found 23 families languishing in the same situation among the 29 this correspondent tried to reach for comments. The only compensation they had received was the sum of Tk. 20,000 given to each of the families to meet burial expenses, along with body bags, at the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) morgue.

Abdul Quader's 'Pearl Plastic' shop was under the Wahed Mansion building, where the fire started. Quader not only lost his nephew Siddique in that blaze but also lost all his belongings in the shop. He is now deep in debt to many people because of his shop. The shop was closed during the incident. "The goods that were in the store were gutted in that fire. There was a lot of money in the

shop. I lost everything because the store is closed. Now I have opened the shop again so that I can raise the money to pay my loans. The city corporation said it would help us by giving money. Some said banks would lend money free of charge. I can’t see any sign of that,” he said.  Hosne Ara, the mother of 22-year-old Rezaul Karim, said, “My son was the lone earning member of my five-member family. The incident not only claimed my son but also left us undone.” Rezaul breathed his last at DMCH after fighting for his life for nine days.

Ruma Begum’s husband Mohammad Billal, another victim, left behind an empty pantry the day he died. “We had no rice at home, no vegetables, literally nothing. I was waiting for him to come home with groceries so that we could eat,” said Ruma. Billal used to stitch curtains for a decorator shop. Ruma is supposed to get Tk. 2 lakh from the ministry, but has not received a single penny yet.

A mass signature programme was organised in the Chawkbazar area on Thursday morning to demand compensation for the families of the 71 victims of the devastating Chawkbazar fire. MA Rahman, one of the key organisers of the programme and a member of a local social organisation, said the authorities showed concern only for around seven days after the incident. Since then, nobody from the government has shown any interest in helping the locals and the victims.

A day after the tragedy, on February 21, the labour and employment ministry promised a compensation of Tk. 1 lakh for the families of each of the deceased in a press release signed by Monnujan Sufian, state minister for labour and employment. Not only that, on December 18 that year, a board meeting of the Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation decided to hike the compensation money to Tk. 2 lakh. Yet, none of the families has got any compensation except the Tk. 20,000 given to each of the families to meet burial expenses.

Earlier, in April that year, 40 private banks deposited cheques worth Tk. 30 crore with the government’s national relief fund to provide assistance for all the victims. Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor Sayeed Khokon, at a public hearing at the capital’s Cirdap, promised city corporation jobs to the families of the deceased.

The DSCC, however, yesterday disclosed that it has provided assistance to 31 families who lost their relatives and had members injured in the fire at Chawkbazar. As part of the assistance, DSCC provided jobs to 21 family members, gave shops to two and financial assistance worth Tk. 2 lakh to four families. In addition, DSCC mayor Sayeed Khokon also announced jobs to four, based on their educational qualifications, within the next two weeks. All the other promises and compensation, however, remain on paper. The ministry said they were working to fulfil the promises.  Asked why the money promised has not been handed over to the victims yet, Md Rezaul Haque, director-general of Bangladesh Workers’ Welfare Foundation, said the process of verifying the victims’ identities was a lengthy one. “We have to cross-check information at the field level through the DC office and the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments. We are waiting to finish verification of the details of all the deceased before disbursing the money,” he said.

The ministry had, however, given emergency aid of Tk. 50,000 to each of the 10 injured on February 24 last year.

Meanwhile, the post-mortem reports of 67 victims of the Chawkbazar fire are ready to be submitted to police. The head of the DMCH forensic department, Associate Professor Dr Sohel Mahmud, said on Wednesday that the report might be submitted to the law enforcement agency anytime.

“The identities of three victims are yet to be confirmed,” he said. “We handed over 45 bodies to their relatives after identifying these in phases. The remaining 22 bodies underwent DNA profiling and 19 of those have been identified.”  “Those who could not identify their relatives can provide DNA samples now, which would pave the way for identification of the victims,” Dr Sohel Mahmud said.

MK

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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