What does the law say regarding fire accidents?
Tragic fire incidents are caused due to lack of fire safety in the commercial buildings, residential buildings, hospitals, supermarkets, educational institutions and even the slum areas where the poorest sections of our society reside. People of all classes are now falling victim to the terrible fire caused by such lacking of safety measures and unawareness.
In November 2012, a fire broke in the Tazreen fashions factory in Bangladesh where garment workers were trapped due to narrow or blocked fire escapes and at least 112 workers died.
Very recently, we witnessed the fire tragedy in Chawkbazar, Banani F.R tower caused by the unbridled greed of the building owners where 70 people and 25 people died helplessly and most recently in DNCC Market and Mirpur Slum Area.
Many people lost their last hope and many became gravely injured.
At least 16,000 incidents of fire have occurred around the country in the last 10 years, killing 1,590 people. The Fire service data had shown that at least 468 fire incidents struck only in the Puran Dhaka area alone.
To take preventive measures against such terrifying fire incidents there are a number of laws that have been enacted such as Building Construction Rules 1996, Bangladesh National Building Code 2006, The Fire Prevention and Extinction Act, 2003 and The Fire Prevention and Extinction Rules, 2014 which look so much better in statute books but have very little implementation in practice.
Besides, there are certain rules that are to be followed to build any building in Cities controlled by the authorities like RAJUK, CDA, RDA etc. But no one cares about the need to abide by the rules and regulations set in the statutes.
Section 4 of the Fire Prevention and Extinction Act 2003 provides that if any person wants to use any building as warehouse or workshop, he shall have to take a license from the Directorate General of Fire Service and Civil Defense. Contravention of this section will result in imprisonment for 3 years or fine and the building along with goods kept in it shall be forfeited. Section 7 depicts, no structural design or layout of the multi-storied commercial building shall be approved or amended without the approval of the Directorate General of Fire Service and Civil Defence. Though all building owners collect the license in order to get an approval of their plan, there is no monitoring from the authority over the implementation of the relevant conditions. Moreover, RAJUK, City Corporation, Fire Service and Civil Defense are the related authorities to check on this issue but no authority is really concerned about their duties.
Section 18 connotes that contravention of section 7 shall be dealt with imprisonment for 6 months or fine. Section 8 (3) directs every owner of the building to take precautions and other measures necessary for public safety. Also, Rule 22 of the Fire Prevention and Extinction Rules 2014 enumerates that owner of the building shall have to apply for an occupancy certificate of the building at the end of the construction. Rule 17(1) of the Building Construction Rules 1996 requires the establishment of the emergency exit gate and the installation of fire extinguisher machine or any other alternative arrangement along with fire alarms as an indication to leave the building. The Irony is, such public safety measures are barely seen in the buildings.
To fence the curse of the fire incident, the government is obliged to take specific stricter approach by changing some of the provisions of existing laws and set up a new authoritative body through engaging non-governmental entities to regulate the building construction laws and rules, so that the safety measures are ensured and building code is maintained accordingly. Besides, the government must halt the corruption of the concerned authority while the technologically advanced equipment and latest training on putting out fire must be ensured among the firefighters and civil defence stations across the country.
Moreover, we tend to discuss a lot for a few days when a tragic incident takes place, but any concrete action is never taken. And then the authorities also forget their responsibilities.
The Government must act to stop the trend to avoid such tragic incidents in the future.
Minhaz Al Junayed is student of law at University of Chittagong.