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Syed Najmuddin Hashim: As I knew him

Mohammad Amjad Hossain
 
Syed Najmuddin Hashim was a unique personality, a prolific writer both in English and Bengali and rose to his glory from Radio journalism to Ambassador and Minister for Information. He ended his career in print journalism as the advisory editor of weekly Dialogue.
Because of his fame as an impeccable writer of English prose, he was wrongly attributed by some Indian journalists as the ghost writer for former Pakistani president Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s book “Friends, not Master book”. In fact, in his book Midnight Massacre, (writing on Pakistan army’s crackdown in Dhaka) Kolkata’s journalist Sukharajan Das Gupta mentioned it without properly verifying it.  Perhaps, Das Gupta was influenced by two of Dhaka’s well known professors – Prof. Zillur Rahman Siddiqui and Prof. Anisuzzaman – who reportedly believed in this unfounded rumour. These two professors had articulated their opinion at a remembrance meeting on 18 July of 1991 while attending Hashim’s his first death anniversary in Dhaka. It was presided over by Professor Kabir Chowdhury.
Both the professors were admonished by Mrs. Syed  Najmuddin Hashim who drew attention to my article appeared a day before the memorial meeting in the Daily Star. There were valid reasons against this rumour. First, at that stage Hashim was a relatively junior officer and the Pakistani establishment could not have asked a Bengali nationalist to become involved in a book that articulated feelings against the Bangalees. I was posted in Islamabad at that time (1970 and 1971) and we gathered from the capital that it was Information Secretary Altaf Gauhar, CSP, and a close associate of Ayub Khan. Altaf Gauhar was an excellent writer himself and also a well known poet.
For Bangladeshi readers I would like to point out that Syed Najmuddin Hashim suffered imprisonment in Dacca Jail in 1948 for a short period for participation in Bengali language movement as a student of MA class at Dacca University while Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a law student of Dacca University and was also in Dacca jail. Both of them developed acquaintance from the jail. Syed Najmuddin Hashim, however, had already obtained a degree in B.A. Honors in English literature from Presidency College of Calcutta and Joined in Morning News in Calcutta in 1946. After partition Syed Najmuddin Hashim took admission in MA class in Dacca University at the fag end of 1947.
The imprisonment in 1948 ended his student career and joined news organization of Radio Pakistan in Dacca as Sub-editor. The following year he went to Karachi as News Editor in the Central News Organization of Radio Pakistan. Soon he was awarded scholarship in 1952 to study at Australian Broadcasting Company in Sydney.
The grouse that influenced some Indian journalists was that
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had put pressure on Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to withdraw Indian troops from the soil of Bangladesh within three months because he didn’t want to see Indian troops as occupied forces in Bangladesh.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also did not accept Indian proposal to send Indian professors to  Dacca University to fill up vacuum in the University. All these act of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not swallowed in good grace by the Indian leadership. That started reflecting in the reports of the Indian Journalists.
Also Prime Minister Bangabandhu did not adhere to any point of the seven points program agreed upon by acting Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad during war of liberation with the Indian government. The Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in fact was annoyed to see the agreement which has been reflected in the articles of Mr. Moyeenul Alam, former Chittagong Bureau Chief of Daily Ittefaq, in Naya Diganta of 28 January 2010. Alam was quite close to the Prime Minister.
Against this backdrop Syed Najmuddin Hashim on return from Pakistan prison was appointed as Managing Director of Bangladesh Film Development Corporation (FDC) and subsequently as Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Information. In 1974 his services were placed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Director-General of External Publicity division to reorganize this important division of the Ministry to cater to the needs and improve the image of the country. He completed his assignment but President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not have the opportunity to see the report. The assassination of the President by a group of disgruntled army officers and jawans on 15 August 1975 cast a deep sense of sadness on Najmuddin Hashim’s mind as has been reflected in his well-written memoir: Osslesher Rakkshi Hashi in Bangla.
One could envy the style of his English writing, but I was amazed to see his Bengali writing as well. In my opinion, it would be difficult to find in Bengali literature another memoir to compare with Syed Najmuddin Hashim’s Osslesher Rakkhoshi Hashi. His educational background at St. Xavier’s convent and St. Gregory High school in Dacca and later at Presidency College in Calcutta moulded his mind to master the English language. It has been reflected in translation of selected poems of poet Shamsur Rahman in his book: The devotee, the combatant. The translation of the poems appears to be excellent, the original themes remaining vibrant and intimate, and here lies his success. In his foreward to the book, litterateur-educationist Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqui gave a good account of Syed Najmuddin Hashim. He said that three things stood out in the literary personality of the man, Syed Najmuddin Hashim, and I mentioned them in order of importance: friendship, poetry and patriotism.
Syed Najmuddin Hashim also translated poems of Abu Zafar Obaidullah, which included in the book: Prayer for rains and the brave of heart. Having read his translation this writer congratulated him by saying the lucid translation work transmits the message of the poet and one can share the feeling of the original work which is in Bengali. At that time he was Minister for Information in President Gen. Hussein Mohammad Ershad. Syed Najmuddin Hashim did not feel comfortable to work with Gen. Ershad who was in the habit of interference with his colleague. That was given to understand by Syed Najmuddin Hashim himself.
Prior to appointment as Minister for Information Syed Najmuddin Hashim served as Bangladesh Ambassador to Burma in 1980 to 1982. Syed Najmuddin Hashim requested the President to relieve him of the post but instead he was offered to serve as Ambassador to USSR with the rank of a cabinet minister. Syed Najmuddin Hashim accepted and served as Ambassador to USSR from 1984—1986.
During his foreign postings Syed Najmuddin Hashim has had series of correspondences, both in English and Bangla as well, with this writer. From Moscow on Western news media Syed Najmuddin Hashim wrote and I quote: “from what you say I am convinced once again that there is no objectivity or honesty in the so-called free press of the West.  Otherwise, in the face of Hamilton’s eyewitness account, how could the Times give the government a pat on the back in its editorial page? One of them has to be wrong and since leader page is what matters to most people are not they being less than honest? I once became very unpopular in New York for telling the NY Times that there is no free press there since the Namibia debate in the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) lasting for a month got four lines in the New York Times while Jewish campaign on behalf of Soviet Jewish dissidents got full page spread, as did Bob Hope’s 80th birthday with Ronald and Nancy participating. They were rocked when I said there appears to be no sovereign government in Washington since all foreign policy decisions were clearly subject to veto by the Jewish lobby and Tel Aviv.”
Some of his letters were satirical in nature. From Moscow I received several letters. One of which was satirical. This was about A.R.S. Doha who served Ershad regime as Foreign Minister. Syed Najmuddin Hashim in a letter said that he was surprised to see “acrobatic feat of Doha” who switched over from Awami League to BNP and landed at Jatiya Party. I was requested by Ambassador Najmuddin Hashim some time in 1982 to receive at Dacca airport Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who was travelling to London via Dacca to avail flight of the British airlines to meet her ailing husband. That means Ambassador Hashim established rapport with Aung Sun Suu Kyi who was then not in the periphery of national politics but he recognized her as an emerging leader.
His other books included Smripate Sheikh Mujibur o Anyanya, Hopefully Pomegranante and Goldadadar Goendagiri earned quite a reputation. According to review by Amazon on Hopefully Pomegranate, “the poems of Najumuddin Hashim move easily between two worlds: if there is misery caused by the cyclone on char Tamizuddin, there is also manmade in other parts of the world, in the paddy fields of napalam-baked Mekong and the Palestinian camps cowering under the unmoved cedars of Lebanon.”
Syed Najmuddin Hashim also recalled the association between Syed Waliullah and Sudhin Datta in the Statesman of Calcutta. Syed Waliullah’s contribution toward war of liberation was not acknowledged by Bangladesh government as recalled by Syed Najmuddin Hashim.
Ambassador Hashim had both the craftsmanship of a writer and compassion of a man. This trend reflected in his letter writing as well. In one of his letter to this writer he wrote from Moscow:  “well now you know why I quit temptation of a shortcut to power through politics of variety. Anything for peace and quiet though for a resource less person like me it will mean working at the grindstone for the rest of my life.”
On completion of his ambassadorial assignment in Moscow in 1986 Syed Najmuddin Hashim joined the English weekly Dialogue of ARS Doha as advisory Editor but because of difference of opinion with the management he resigned reflecting his independent and straightforward mind.
This writer was fortunate enough to work with Syed Najmuddin Hashim in the foreign ministry of Bangladesh for about two years. He expired on 18 July of 1999.
 
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat and former President of Nova Toastmasters International club of America, writes from Virginia

Comment

Mohammad Amjad Hossain
 
Syed Najmuddin Hashim was a unique personality, a prolific writer both in English and Bengali and rose to his glory from Radio journalism to Ambassador and Minister for Information. He ended his career in print journalism as the advisory editor of weekly Dialogue.
Because of his fame as an impeccable writer of English prose, he was wrongly attributed by some Indian journalists as the ghost writer for former Pakistani president Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s book “Friends, not Master book”. In fact, in his book Midnight Massacre, (writing on Pakistan army’s crackdown in Dhaka) Kolkata’s journalist Sukharajan Das Gupta mentioned it without properly verifying it.  Perhaps, Das Gupta was influenced by two of Dhaka’s well known professors – Prof. Zillur Rahman Siddiqui and Prof. Anisuzzaman – who reportedly believed in this unfounded rumour. These two professors had articulated their opinion at a remembrance meeting on 18 July of 1991 while attending Hashim’s his first death anniversary in Dhaka. It was presided over by Professor Kabir Chowdhury.
Both the professors were admonished by Mrs. Syed  Najmuddin Hashim who drew attention to my article appeared a day before the memorial meeting in the Daily Star. There were valid reasons against this rumour. First, at that stage Hashim was a relatively junior officer and the Pakistani establishment could not have asked a Bengali nationalist to become involved in a book that articulated feelings against the Bangalees. I was posted in Islamabad at that time (1970 and 1971) and we gathered from the capital that it was Information Secretary Altaf Gauhar, CSP, and a close associate of Ayub Khan. Altaf Gauhar was an excellent writer himself and also a well known poet.
For Bangladeshi readers I would like to point out that Syed Najmuddin Hashim suffered imprisonment in Dacca Jail in 1948 for a short period for participation in Bengali language movement as a student of MA class at Dacca University while Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a law student of Dacca University and was also in Dacca jail. Both of them developed acquaintance from the jail. Syed Najmuddin Hashim, however, had already obtained a degree in B.A. Honors in English literature from Presidency College of Calcutta and Joined in Morning News in Calcutta in 1946. After partition Syed Najmuddin Hashim took admission in MA class in Dacca University at the fag end of 1947.
The imprisonment in 1948 ended his student career and joined news organization of Radio Pakistan in Dacca as Sub-editor. The following year he went to Karachi as News Editor in the Central News Organization of Radio Pakistan. Soon he was awarded scholarship in 1952 to study at Australian Broadcasting Company in Sydney.
The grouse that influenced some Indian journalists was that
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had put pressure on Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to withdraw Indian troops from the soil of Bangladesh within three months because he didn’t want to see Indian troops as occupied forces in Bangladesh.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also did not accept Indian proposal to send Indian professors to  Dacca University to fill up vacuum in the University. All these act of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was not swallowed in good grace by the Indian leadership. That started reflecting in the reports of the Indian Journalists.
Also Prime Minister Bangabandhu did not adhere to any point of the seven points program agreed upon by acting Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad during war of liberation with the Indian government. The Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in fact was annoyed to see the agreement which has been reflected in the articles of Mr. Moyeenul Alam, former Chittagong Bureau Chief of Daily Ittefaq, in Naya Diganta of 28 January 2010. Alam was quite close to the Prime Minister.
Against this backdrop Syed Najmuddin Hashim on return from Pakistan prison was appointed as Managing Director of Bangladesh Film Development Corporation (FDC) and subsequently as Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Information. In 1974 his services were placed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Director-General of External Publicity division to reorganize this important division of the Ministry to cater to the needs and improve the image of the country. He completed his assignment but President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not have the opportunity to see the report. The assassination of the President by a group of disgruntled army officers and jawans on 15 August 1975 cast a deep sense of sadness on Najmuddin Hashim’s mind as has been reflected in his well-written memoir: Osslesher Rakkshi Hashi in Bangla.
One could envy the style of his English writing, but I was amazed to see his Bengali writing as well. In my opinion, it would be difficult to find in Bengali literature another memoir to compare with Syed Najmuddin Hashim’s Osslesher Rakkhoshi Hashi. His educational background at St. Xavier’s convent and St. Gregory High school in Dacca and later at Presidency College in Calcutta moulded his mind to master the English language. It has been reflected in translation of selected poems of poet Shamsur Rahman in his book: The devotee, the combatant. The translation of the poems appears to be excellent, the original themes remaining vibrant and intimate, and here lies his success. In his foreward to the book, litterateur-educationist Professor Zillur Rahman Siddiqui gave a good account of Syed Najmuddin Hashim. He said that three things stood out in the literary personality of the man, Syed Najmuddin Hashim, and I mentioned them in order of importance: friendship, poetry and patriotism.
Syed Najmuddin Hashim also translated poems of Abu Zafar Obaidullah, which included in the book: Prayer for rains and the brave of heart. Having read his translation this writer congratulated him by saying the lucid translation work transmits the message of the poet and one can share the feeling of the original work which is in Bengali. At that time he was Minister for Information in President Gen. Hussein Mohammad Ershad. Syed Najmuddin Hashim did not feel comfortable to work with Gen. Ershad who was in the habit of interference with his colleague. That was given to understand by Syed Najmuddin Hashim himself.
Prior to appointment as Minister for Information Syed Najmuddin Hashim served as Bangladesh Ambassador to Burma in 1980 to 1982. Syed Najmuddin Hashim requested the President to relieve him of the post but instead he was offered to serve as Ambassador to USSR with the rank of a cabinet minister. Syed Najmuddin Hashim accepted and served as Ambassador to USSR from 1984—1986.
During his foreign postings Syed Najmuddin Hashim has had series of correspondences, both in English and Bangla as well, with this writer. From Moscow on Western news media Syed Najmuddin Hashim wrote and I quote: “from what you say I am convinced once again that there is no objectivity or honesty in the so-called free press of the West.  Otherwise, in the face of Hamilton’s eyewitness account, how could the Times give the government a pat on the back in its editorial page? One of them has to be wrong and since leader page is what matters to most people are not they being less than honest? I once became very unpopular in New York for telling the NY Times that there is no free press there since the Namibia debate in the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) lasting for a month got four lines in the New York Times while Jewish campaign on behalf of Soviet Jewish dissidents got full page spread, as did Bob Hope’s 80th birthday with Ronald and Nancy participating. They were rocked when I said there appears to be no sovereign government in Washington since all foreign policy decisions were clearly subject to veto by the Jewish lobby and Tel Aviv.”
Some of his letters were satirical in nature. From Moscow I received several letters. One of which was satirical. This was about A.R.S. Doha who served Ershad regime as Foreign Minister. Syed Najmuddin Hashim in a letter said that he was surprised to see “acrobatic feat of Doha” who switched over from Awami League to BNP and landed at Jatiya Party. I was requested by Ambassador Najmuddin Hashim some time in 1982 to receive at Dacca airport Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who was travelling to London via Dacca to avail flight of the British airlines to meet her ailing husband. That means Ambassador Hashim established rapport with Aung Sun Suu Kyi who was then not in the periphery of national politics but he recognized her as an emerging leader.
His other books included Smripate Sheikh Mujibur o Anyanya, Hopefully Pomegranante and Goldadadar Goendagiri earned quite a reputation. According to review by Amazon on Hopefully Pomegranate, “the poems of Najumuddin Hashim move easily between two worlds: if there is misery caused by the cyclone on char Tamizuddin, there is also manmade in other parts of the world, in the paddy fields of napalam-baked Mekong and the Palestinian camps cowering under the unmoved cedars of Lebanon.”
Syed Najmuddin Hashim also recalled the association between Syed Waliullah and Sudhin Datta in the Statesman of Calcutta. Syed Waliullah’s contribution toward war of liberation was not acknowledged by Bangladesh government as recalled by Syed Najmuddin Hashim.
Ambassador Hashim had both the craftsmanship of a writer and compassion of a man. This trend reflected in his letter writing as well. In one of his letter to this writer he wrote from Moscow:  “well now you know why I quit temptation of a shortcut to power through politics of variety. Anything for peace and quiet though for a resource less person like me it will mean working at the grindstone for the rest of my life.”
On completion of his ambassadorial assignment in Moscow in 1986 Syed Najmuddin Hashim joined the English weekly Dialogue of ARS Doha as advisory Editor but because of difference of opinion with the management he resigned reflecting his independent and straightforward mind.
This writer was fortunate enough to work with Syed Najmuddin Hashim in the foreign ministry of Bangladesh for about two years. He expired on 18 July of 1999.
 
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat and former President of Nova Toastmasters International club of America, writes from Virginia

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The dark surface of the country’s construction industry

Raisul Islam Sourab
 
Bangladesh, being a lower middle income country focuses on infrastructure development rapidly these days. However, taking proper safety measures for workers who are engaged in building the projects is crucial during the construction period. A worker was killed and two others including an engineer were injured when a 36-metre-long girder weighing about 70 tonnes of the Malibagh-Mouchak-Mogbazar flyover fell on 13 March in Dhaka. Another girder collapsed during installation at the same spot few days before though none was hurt at that time.
Almost a year ago, 25-year-old construction worker Rabbi Ahmed Emon died when iron rods from the same flyover fell on him in the same area. Subsequently, a High Court bench consisted of Justice Obaidul Hasan and Justice Krishna Debnath ordered the authorities concerned to take public safety measures in Moghbazar-Mouchak flyover construction last year. Earlier at least four people died and 15 were injured when a concrete girders of the under-construction flyover at Bahaddarhat in Chittagong collapsed in 2012.
 
A corporate manslaughter
Recurrence of safety failure resulting in death and injury in the construction sector indicate the impunity with which the contractors tend to evade workplace safety laws as the toiling workers are deprived of their basic human rights including ‘right to life’ while doing their job. Besides, failures of concerned authority to bring the perpetrators into justice clearly show their reluctance to prevent such incidents. It has now been proved that workers lives are cheaper than the cheap labour.
This kind of killing can be regarded as corporate manslaughter.  However, the Penal Code, 1860 and some other special piece of legislations have been enacted for protecting individual right to life and liberty from attack of other individual(s), but such legislation lacks provisions for addressing the killing of people for acts of a corporate body. Corporate manslaughter is a crime which enables a corporation to be punished for acts leading to a person’s death and it extends beyond compensation. The criminal liability of the corporation’s owners is direct.
In addition, one can hold the employer responsible for this case. In a strict liability case the plaintiff does not have to prove the general contractor or developer was negligent in the construction rather s/he has to prove the defendant was involved in the construction, a defect in the construction exists, damages were proximately caused by the defect, and the defendant caused or created the defect.
The reasons behind this impunity is that there are no provisions in the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 requiring employers to stop fall from height or stopping electrocution or safe use of trenches etc. However, most of the provisions inserted in this legislation relating to worker health and safety issues are not relevant to the key issues of safety on construction sites.
 
BNBC specify safety provisions
Nevertheless, the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), 2006 is applicable to construction sites, but even in the Code there are few provisions which deal with the safety of the workmen during construction. Part-7, chapter -1 of the Code clearly sets out the constructional responsibilities according to which the relevant authority of a particular construction site shall adopt some precautionary measures to ensure the safety of the workmen. So, the employer can never escape himself from being responsible in case of any violation of the safety provisions.
Section 1.4.1 of chapter-1, part-7 of the Code, states the general duties of the employer to the public as well as workers. According to this section, “All equipments and safeguards required for the construction work such as temporary stair, ladder, ramp, scaffold, hoist, run way, barricade, chute, lift etc shall be substantially constructed and erected so as not to create any unsafe situation for the workmen using them or the workmen and general public passing under, on or near them”. Therefore, the safety issue of the construction workers during construction is a precondition for the site authority. The site authority or the relevant employer of the workers must provide the construction workers with the safety tools prior to the introduction of the construction or demolition or even in case of handling of materials. However, employers usually want to avoid their liabilities either by claiming that the workers denied to take safety tools and failed to ensure their own safety by themselves or merely naming this as an accident.
Part-7, Chapter-3 of the Code has clarified the issue of safety of workmen during construction and with relation to this, set out the details about the different safety tools (PPE) of specified standard like goggles, gloves, safety boots, apron and hand shield having filter glass of accepted standard and suitable to the eyes of a particular worker. In relation with the health hazards of the workers during construction, this chapter describes the nature of the different health hazards that normally occur in the site during construction and at the same time specifies the specific measures to be taken to prevent such health hazards. According to this chapter, exhaust ventilation, use of protective devices, medical checkup etc are the measures to be taken by the employer to ensure a healthy workplace for the workers.
 
Electrocution, fall from height
With relation to the safety measures against electrocution and fall from height, two most common causes of workplace fatality, the Code in its section 3.1.3 of chapter 3 of Part 7 has specified that warning signs shall be displayed where necessary to indicate hazardous areas like hi-voltage zone. In addition, according to section 3.9.2 of chapter 3 of part 7, “all cables and signal cords are required to be guarded wherever such cables and cords pass through or cross working spaces.”
Moreover, to prevent workers falling from heights, the Code in section 3.7.1 to 3.7.6 of chapter 3 of part 7 sets out the detailed requirements on the formation and use of scaffolding. According to section 3.9.2 of the same chapter, “every temporary floor openings shall either have railing of at least 900 mm height or shall be constantly attended. Every floor hole shall be guarded by either a railing with toe board or a hinged cover. Alternatively, the hole may be constantly attended or protected by a removable railing. Every stairway floor opening shall be guarded by railing at least 900 mm high on the exposed sides except at entrance to stairway. Every ladder way floor opening or platform shall be guarded by a guard railing with toe board except at entrance to opening. Every open sided floor or platform 1.2 meters or more above adjacent ground level shall be guarded by a railing on all open sides except where there is entrance to ramp, stairway or fixed ladder.
Despite that survey report of the Bangladesh Worker Safety Programme (BWSP) reveals that construction workers make up 50% of workplace victims. Among 222 workplace deaths, 103 were in the construction sector and the most common causes of all deaths were ‘electrocution’ (54) and ‘fall from height’ (38) (The Daily Star, November 20, 2008).
 
No regulatory authority exists
However, according to the BNBC the government is obliged to constitute a common building regulatory authority to monitor the whole process all over the country. With relation to the provision of setting up the BNBC Enforcement Authority, the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) jointly filed a writ petition in the High Court Division on January 27, 2008 to redress the failure of the government to establish an agency to enforce the Code in particular the provisions relating to worker safety issues. Unfortunately no such body does exist in the country till today!
Workers’ welfare has been guaranteed in the Constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh. Article 14 dictates that “It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to emancipate the toiling masses, the peasants and workers, and backward sections of the people from all forms of exploitation”. Article 15 also mentions the right to guaranteed employment at a reasonable wage and the right to social security. Additionally, the government has already formulated the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy, 2013; furthermore, Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation (Amendment) Act, 2013 was enacted and Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation Rule, 2010 was introduced.  Moreover, Bangladesh Labour Rules was also in operation from 2015. The aim of the National Labour Policy of 2012 is to ensure an investment friendly atmosphere by a creating productive, exploitation free, decent, safe, and healthy workplace for active citizens and to establish workers’ rights and dignity of work. These legislations and policies are all in place to ensure the rights of workers in Bangladesh.
 
Fixing of responsibility
Trivial and shamefully inadequate amount of compensation which has been offered to the families of the dead and injured workers after these kinds of incidents exemplifies the disregard and disrespect for construction workers without whose blood, the tag of lower middle income country could not have achieved. The situation demands that the State as well as other stakeholders must address the rights of workers with seriousness failing which they should all be held accountable for involuntary manslaughter, which is a direct consequence of gross negligence and breaches of workplace safety laws. Accordingly, civil as well as criminal liabilities should be imposed upon them for not exercising due diligence in ensuring workplace safety.
Workers are integral parts of industry and national development. Hence an Employment Injury Insurance (EII) policy must be taken by the government to provide an immediate response in terms of compensating those directly affected by workplace accidents. Without ensuring safety in work place no development would be sustainable and the country will be defeated in achieving its development goal within the time limit.
 
Raisul Islam Sourav is currently working as an Advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and an Assistant Professor & Coordinator at the department of Law, Dhaka International University. He is also a legal researcher, rights activist & freelance writer. He can be reached at: raisul.sourav@outlook.com

 

Comment

Raisul Islam Sourab
 
Bangladesh, being a lower middle income country focuses on infrastructure development rapidly these days. However, taking proper safety measures for workers who are engaged in building the projects is crucial during the construction period. A worker was killed and two others including an engineer were injured when a 36-metre-long girder weighing about 70 tonnes of the Malibagh-Mouchak-Mogbazar flyover fell on 13 March in Dhaka. Another girder collapsed during installation at the same spot few days before though none was hurt at that time.
Almost a year ago, 25-year-old construction worker Rabbi Ahmed Emon died when iron rods from the same flyover fell on him in the same area. Subsequently, a High Court bench consisted of Justice Obaidul Hasan and Justice Krishna Debnath ordered the authorities concerned to take public safety measures in Moghbazar-Mouchak flyover construction last year. Earlier at least four people died and 15 were injured when a concrete girders of the under-construction flyover at Bahaddarhat in Chittagong collapsed in 2012.
 
A corporate manslaughter
Recurrence of safety failure resulting in death and injury in the construction sector indicate the impunity with which the contractors tend to evade workplace safety laws as the toiling workers are deprived of their basic human rights including ‘right to life’ while doing their job. Besides, failures of concerned authority to bring the perpetrators into justice clearly show their reluctance to prevent such incidents. It has now been proved that workers lives are cheaper than the cheap labour.
This kind of killing can be regarded as corporate manslaughter.  However, the Penal Code, 1860 and some other special piece of legislations have been enacted for protecting individual right to life and liberty from attack of other individual(s), but such legislation lacks provisions for addressing the killing of people for acts of a corporate body. Corporate manslaughter is a crime which enables a corporation to be punished for acts leading to a person’s death and it extends beyond compensation. The criminal liability of the corporation’s owners is direct.
In addition, one can hold the employer responsible for this case. In a strict liability case the plaintiff does not have to prove the general contractor or developer was negligent in the construction rather s/he has to prove the defendant was involved in the construction, a defect in the construction exists, damages were proximately caused by the defect, and the defendant caused or created the defect.
The reasons behind this impunity is that there are no provisions in the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 requiring employers to stop fall from height or stopping electrocution or safe use of trenches etc. However, most of the provisions inserted in this legislation relating to worker health and safety issues are not relevant to the key issues of safety on construction sites.
 
BNBC specify safety provisions
Nevertheless, the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), 2006 is applicable to construction sites, but even in the Code there are few provisions which deal with the safety of the workmen during construction. Part-7, chapter -1 of the Code clearly sets out the constructional responsibilities according to which the relevant authority of a particular construction site shall adopt some precautionary measures to ensure the safety of the workmen. So, the employer can never escape himself from being responsible in case of any violation of the safety provisions.
Section 1.4.1 of chapter-1, part-7 of the Code, states the general duties of the employer to the public as well as workers. According to this section, “All equipments and safeguards required for the construction work such as temporary stair, ladder, ramp, scaffold, hoist, run way, barricade, chute, lift etc shall be substantially constructed and erected so as not to create any unsafe situation for the workmen using them or the workmen and general public passing under, on or near them”. Therefore, the safety issue of the construction workers during construction is a precondition for the site authority. The site authority or the relevant employer of the workers must provide the construction workers with the safety tools prior to the introduction of the construction or demolition or even in case of handling of materials. However, employers usually want to avoid their liabilities either by claiming that the workers denied to take safety tools and failed to ensure their own safety by themselves or merely naming this as an accident.
Part-7, Chapter-3 of the Code has clarified the issue of safety of workmen during construction and with relation to this, set out the details about the different safety tools (PPE) of specified standard like goggles, gloves, safety boots, apron and hand shield having filter glass of accepted standard and suitable to the eyes of a particular worker. In relation with the health hazards of the workers during construction, this chapter describes the nature of the different health hazards that normally occur in the site during construction and at the same time specifies the specific measures to be taken to prevent such health hazards. According to this chapter, exhaust ventilation, use of protective devices, medical checkup etc are the measures to be taken by the employer to ensure a healthy workplace for the workers.
 
Electrocution, fall from height
With relation to the safety measures against electrocution and fall from height, two most common causes of workplace fatality, the Code in its section 3.1.3 of chapter 3 of Part 7 has specified that warning signs shall be displayed where necessary to indicate hazardous areas like hi-voltage zone. In addition, according to section 3.9.2 of chapter 3 of part 7, “all cables and signal cords are required to be guarded wherever such cables and cords pass through or cross working spaces.”
Moreover, to prevent workers falling from heights, the Code in section 3.7.1 to 3.7.6 of chapter 3 of part 7 sets out the detailed requirements on the formation and use of scaffolding. According to section 3.9.2 of the same chapter, “every temporary floor openings shall either have railing of at least 900 mm height or shall be constantly attended. Every floor hole shall be guarded by either a railing with toe board or a hinged cover. Alternatively, the hole may be constantly attended or protected by a removable railing. Every stairway floor opening shall be guarded by railing at least 900 mm high on the exposed sides except at entrance to stairway. Every ladder way floor opening or platform shall be guarded by a guard railing with toe board except at entrance to opening. Every open sided floor or platform 1.2 meters or more above adjacent ground level shall be guarded by a railing on all open sides except where there is entrance to ramp, stairway or fixed ladder.
Despite that survey report of the Bangladesh Worker Safety Programme (BWSP) reveals that construction workers make up 50% of workplace victims. Among 222 workplace deaths, 103 were in the construction sector and the most common causes of all deaths were ‘electrocution’ (54) and ‘fall from height’ (38) (The Daily Star, November 20, 2008).
 
No regulatory authority exists
However, according to the BNBC the government is obliged to constitute a common building regulatory authority to monitor the whole process all over the country. With relation to the provision of setting up the BNBC Enforcement Authority, the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) and the Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) jointly filed a writ petition in the High Court Division on January 27, 2008 to redress the failure of the government to establish an agency to enforce the Code in particular the provisions relating to worker safety issues. Unfortunately no such body does exist in the country till today!
Workers’ welfare has been guaranteed in the Constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh. Article 14 dictates that “It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to emancipate the toiling masses, the peasants and workers, and backward sections of the people from all forms of exploitation”. Article 15 also mentions the right to guaranteed employment at a reasonable wage and the right to social security. Additionally, the government has already formulated the National Occupational Health and Safety Policy, 2013; furthermore, Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation (Amendment) Act, 2013 was enacted and Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation Rule, 2010 was introduced.  Moreover, Bangladesh Labour Rules was also in operation from 2015. The aim of the National Labour Policy of 2012 is to ensure an investment friendly atmosphere by a creating productive, exploitation free, decent, safe, and healthy workplace for active citizens and to establish workers’ rights and dignity of work. These legislations and policies are all in place to ensure the rights of workers in Bangladesh.
 
Fixing of responsibility
Trivial and shamefully inadequate amount of compensation which has been offered to the families of the dead and injured workers after these kinds of incidents exemplifies the disregard and disrespect for construction workers without whose blood, the tag of lower middle income country could not have achieved. The situation demands that the State as well as other stakeholders must address the rights of workers with seriousness failing which they should all be held accountable for involuntary manslaughter, which is a direct consequence of gross negligence and breaches of workplace safety laws. Accordingly, civil as well as criminal liabilities should be imposed upon them for not exercising due diligence in ensuring workplace safety.
Workers are integral parts of industry and national development. Hence an Employment Injury Insurance (EII) policy must be taken by the government to provide an immediate response in terms of compensating those directly affected by workplace accidents. Without ensuring safety in work place no development would be sustainable and the country will be defeated in achieving its development goal within the time limit.
 
Raisul Islam Sourav is currently working as an Advocate at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and an Assistant Professor & Coordinator at the department of Law, Dhaka International University. He is also a legal researcher, rights activist & freelance writer. He can be reached at: raisul.sourav@outlook.com

 


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