Years ago when the Directorate of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) was given more authority and the organisation was elevated as a Department with the promise of increased manpower, there was a feeling among many that the government wanted to ensure a reasonably disciplined and compliant system in the setting up and functioning of factories and industrial units in the country. It was no great optimism, although hardly anyone hoped that the organisation (DIFE), a sitting duck for long, would suddenly jump into action to address wrongs of all conceivable types. Moreover, the decision to strengthen the inspection agency came in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster --- as a reactive response. Optimism apart, isn't it at all anybody's concern to see what the organisation has been doing over the years?
The deadly fire incident at a factory in Rupganj, Narayanganj is a grim reminder of the recurrence of factory accidents, mostly from fire, which keep happening at almost regular intervals. More than a dozen accidents of similar nature with high death tolls took place in the past years, but except for the post-accident reactions, barely have there been talks on fixing accountability of government agencies including the DIFE for negligence of duties. Since the DIFE, by its very name, is the designated body to act as the key watchdog, it is not unusual to put the blame on it squarely. But there are other agencies which are also to blame for not doing what they are required to do. Setting up of a factory requires the permission of the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk), local municipality or union, the Fire Service, and the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE). If a factory uses excessive amount of chemicals, it has to take additional permission from the Department of Explosives. A factory has to renew its licence every year or every two-three years while it is operating. The authorities are supposed to inspect the factories regularly to ensure good working condition and safety of the workers.
No one can tell these routine duties are at all performed by the regulators. A few days ago, at a webinar prominent business leaders and economists while raising their concern over the unregulated manner in which factories operate in the country, pointed out the urgency of combined and coordinated efforts of all regulators including the DIFE. The DIFE, reportedly, is understaffed despite its elevation and delegation of more authority. Also it suffers from lack of logistics.
It has been learnt that there are around 90,000 registered factories, shops, companies and institutions, and around half a million unregistered units in Bangladesh for the DIFE to inspect. A stupendous task for an agency with only a few hundred-strong manpower. It has been gathered that the DIFE has its standard operating procedures (SOPs) for various factories, but mere framing of SOPs is of no use if the agency is not in a position to work on those. The government has to attend to these and other relevant issues to make a sense of factory inspection.