The Financial Express

Callousness at its worst or wilful indifference!

Callousness at its worst or wilful indifference!

One cannot say accidents are accidents unless one is a hypocrite. To make such a statement, one has to be dead sure of the inevitability or unavoidability of the dreadful occurrences. Although people in general have become somewhat immune to tragic accidents now on the rise with recurrence of certain patterns when they should be highly wary of such developments, this is an indication of a sense of apathy out of frustration and helplessness. Otherwise common people do care for the lives of fellow human beings. Which, however, cannot be said about those responsible for ensuring safety of life.   

It is because of this, experts working in the field of safety against accidents refuse to accept many of the tragic incidents as accidents; rather they call those outright murders by default. A culture of callousness has indeed allowed infernos to overwhelm rows of residential buildings used for storing chemicals or producing plastic goods or polythene in the overcrowded parts of old Dhaka, road crashes with an increasing frequency, unstoppable level crossing gory mayhems and of late collapse of girders of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) expressway or flyovers both in the capital and port cities.

Once fires in garment factories were a routine affair. The threat is still there but certainly there has been a phenomenal improvement when Accord and Alliance ---European and North American buying platforms respectively---came in aid of garment factories in raising their fire safety standard. After the Rana Plaza tragedy, there has been a massive overhaul of garment houses so much so that the country by the first quarter of 2021 boasted 150 eco-friendly green garments factories ---highest in the world. They have been awarded the Leadership in Environmental and Energy in Design (LEED) certificate by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). By now their number should go up further. Still more enviable is the fact that 14 of those are ranked among the world's top 27 eco-friendly industrial establishments.

Clearly the interventions by Accord and Alliance have had a major role in making this happen. Why cannot similar interventions be made in the areas of highway tragedies, fires in old Dhaka and snapping of girders at the time of their hoisting on pillars? Admitted that there may be a mistake once but why should the country stand a mute witness to such repeated tragic happenings? Clearly, there is a stupendous lack of seriousness on the part of the authorities concerned.

Immediately after each such accident wise heads start vivisecting the circumstances that lead to it. There is also a ritualistic pattern comprising both blame games and a slew of promises including punishment to be meted out to those responsible. What is particularly revealing is the fact that the law enforcement agencies come up with a list of lapses and irregularities  in case of a road accident. For example, they inform that the bus involved in the accident was operating without route permit or its driver had no experience of driving heavy vehicles etc.

Now the question is, how can a bus operate on a busy city road without route permit or after expiry of its active lifespan? Why cannot the law enforcers take preemptive action against those vehicles or drivers? Why should they come up with such stories after an accident has claimed lives and left people injured? Similarly, 'the plastic or polythene factory was operating without licence or had no fire extinguishers'---runs the litany.

Then consider the complaints brought against the contractor after the girder smashed the car, killing five people inside and injuring a newly-wed couple at Uttara. What a funny and phony objection that the contractor did not inform the BRT authority before undertaking the task of lifting the girder on that day when he was not supposed to do so. The 'obstinate contractor' does not oblige the authority!

The response comes when similar girder debacles that happened earlier were brought to the authority's notice. If this was the case, how can the contractor still have the job? Or, if he has his anarchic way, should the BRT boss hold the position? He should have resigned accepting his failure to control the contractor. No man is bigger than an institute or institution. Similarly, no development project is more important than human life or for that matter its safety.

Also, no one has the right to compromise on the safety issue even when undertaking a highly important development work. In the case of girder collapse, ensuring two vital cautionary measures would have been enough. First, ensuring the crane's capacity to haul the 80-tonne concrete girder and second, marking an enclosure with flashy tapes to ensure that no one ventures into it until the hauling of the girder has been completed. This is the minimum level of guidelines any development project follows. Why is exception to this in case of the BRT expressway project?

So far as the unlicensed plastic and polythene factories in the city's old part are concerned, the virus is in the antidote. Is shifting of chemical business hub to the designated place away from the crowded area an uphill task? The identification and sealing of illegal factories manufacturing polythene and plastic goods are not a big ask provided the authorities concerned are serious about rooting out the hazardous practice. If garment factories could be streamlined, so can such factories be done. Those can continue because rent-seekers ---both local influential coteries and men in uniform ---use them as a permanent source of ill-gotten income. The same is true for public buses.             

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