Collapsed building owner's assets, property to be seized

May 01, 2013, 07:08 IST | Agencies

A top Bangladesh court on Tuesday ordered the government to 'immediately' confiscate the property of the collapsed building's owner, as thousands of protesters demanding death penalty for the man clashed with police, leaving 100 people injured

A two-judge panel of the High Court also asked the central bank to freeze the assets of the owners of the five garment factories in the building, and use the money to pay the salaries and other benefits to their workers.

Bangladeshi people and garments workers march in the street demanding the death sentence for owner of Rana Plaza, Sohel Rana following the eight-storey building collapse in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka. The people were also furious when they heard the country had refused foreign aid. Pic/AFP

The order came after police produced the building owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, and the factory owners in court. The order did not elaborate but it was implied that the salaries of the dead victims would be paid to their relatives. At least 386 people were killed and 2,500 people escaped with injuries when the illegally constructed eight-storey Rana Plaza collapsed on April 24. According to one estimate, about 1,000 people are missing, indicating that the death toll could end up in the neighbourhood of 1,400.

The collapse has become the deadliest disaster to hit Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is worth $20 billion annually and supplies global retailers. Rescue efforts have now been suspended and authorities are using heavy machinery to clear the broken and crushed concrete slabs to get to the bottom floor, where emergency workers expect to find many more dead bodies.

On Tuesday, clashes broke out again between thousands of garment workers and police in Savar, leaving at least 100 people injured, the United News of Bangladesh news agency reported. It said that the police attacked with sticks when the workers, who were demanding death penalty for Rana and news of the missing people, tried to break the security cordon around the collapsed building. 

At least 22 of the injured were hospitalised, it said. The protesters also smashed at least 20 vehicles in the area, the agency said. Earlier, people had waited patiently at the site for news of missing relatives, holding their pictures and identity cards as they watched cranes lifting sections of ceilings and floors from the rubble.

Emergency workers in hard hats used drilling and cutting machines to break up the slabs into manageable pieces. Ratna Akhtar who was looking for her husband at a nearby school ground, wailed: “Give me my husband back. At least I want to see his dead body if not alive.”

On Monday, a magistrate gave police 15 days to interrogate Rana, the building owner. He was arrested on Sunday in a border town as he tried to flee to India. He is being questioned on charges of negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work. The crimes he is accused of carry a maximum punishment of seven years. More charges could be added later. 

Rana had permission to build a five-storey building but added three more floors illegally. The death toll has surpassed a fire five months ago that killed 112 people and brought widespread pledges to improve worker-safety standards. But since then, very little has changed in Bangladesh. “I think it is a wakeup call for the nation, a wakeup call for the industry and for the trade unions,” said Shirin Akter, founding president of Karmojibi Nari, a Dhaka-based Bangladeshi group that lobbies for the rights of women in the workplace.

The number of people that have died in the building collapse

Number of people still missing

Company to pay compensation
Primark acknowledged it was using a factory in Rana Plaza. It said in a statement that it is providing emergency aid and will pay compensation to victims who worked for its supplier. 

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