The government yesterday set August 25 as the deadline for relocation of all chemical warehouses and factories from Old Dhaka.
It made the move five days after a devastating fire killed at least 68 people in Chawkbazar, an incident that harks back to the Nimtoli inferno which had left another 124 dead in 2010.
Both the disasters were chemical-fuelled.
Following the Nimtoli tragedy, different quarters had urged for removing chemical warehouses and factories from the old town. However, all those calls fell on deaf ears. Even after Wednesday's tragedy, the area is crammed with the risky business.
Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun announced the deadline yesterday, following an emergency meeting with relevant stakeholders, including businessmen, trade chambers leaders and officials from Bangladesh Bank and fire service. The meeting was called by the industries ministry.
Meanwhile, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Mayor Sayeed Khokon yesterday said a taskforce would launch a month-long drive on Thursday to remove warehouses of “dangerous chemicals” from Old Dhaka, including Chawkbazar.
During the nearly three-hour meeting, the industries minister said, “We will not care about the traditional rules of government for the relocation. This is a state emergency."
Pointing to non-cooperation and failure of different government agencies and divisions in taking proper actions for the relocation, he said, “Every time people will die, we will hold meetings and deliver speeches. I don't want this anymore.”
Addressing the meeting participants, he then said, “Don't confine yourself to government papers only” and asked the authorities concerned to ensure a faster relocation of the warehouses.
Many of the participants suggested removal of the warehouses and factories within next three months. “But it's not possible to do so overnight. So, we have decided to complete the relocation within the next six months,” Humayun said.
After the Nimtoli incident, the government took up four projects to relocate four types of industries -- chemical, plastic, printing and light electronics -- from that part of the capital.
Around nine years down the line, the implementation of those projects still remains at the preliminary stage, mainly due to problems associated with land acquisition and bureaucratic tangles.
Currently, there are some 4,000 chemical factories and warehouses in the old town, making the area vulnerable to fire, said officials concerned.
In response to a query, Md Abdul Halim, secretary to the industries ministry, told reporters that the government would take a crash programme to implement the relocation project.
Businessmen would also be engaged in the relocation, he said, claiming that many of them have already expressed their desire to shift their businesses on their own to the special economic zones, being developed by the government.
In the meeting, leather businessmen and dyeing industries owners urged the government to relocate their business to the leather industrial site in Savar and the dyeing industries areas respectively.
The prime minister has already directed the ministry to look for 200 acres of land to relocate the chemical warehouses, he added.
Replying to a question, Halim said apart from the industries ministry, the Dhaka South City Corporation was also working to shift the warehouses. “So I am very hopeful that the relocation is possible in six months.”
Yesterday, the DSCC held an emergency meeting at the Nagar Bhaban with the high-ups of different organisations, including businessmen. At the meeting, Mayor Sayeed Khokon declared about the taskforce formation.
“The taskforce will be of two tiers. One will comprise high-ups of different government organisations who will give time-to-time directives to the lower tier which will execute eviction drives,” said Khokon.
The DSCC have identified 15 risky wards where the dangerous chemical warehouses and factories are located. These are wards 24, 27 to 37 and 55 to 57, said its sources.
"Utility services like power, water and gas connections of the risky buildings will be cut and remain shut until the taskforce gives No Objection Certificate [NOC],” said Khokon, adding the drive from Thursday would continue till April 1.
He also asked different government intelligence departments and organisations to monitor whether anyone was storing risky chemicals at any buildings.
The DSCC mayor also called upon the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and the Department of Explosives to strongly monitor fitness of gas cylinders that are used in vehicles as well as for commercial and residential purposes.
Inspector General of Police Javed Patwary said police were very much serious about the matter. “We will give maximum support to the taskforce…. None will be spared this time.”
Expressing gratitude to the Fire Service and Civil Defence for their bravery during the fire incident, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said, “We'll have to remove flammable chemicals from the area [old Dhaka] at any cost.”
Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchant Association General Secretary Arif Hossain said they agreed to the government's short-term, mid-term and long-term approach on relocation of risky chemicals from Old Dhaka.
He, however, urged the authorities not to harass businessmen in the name of relocation.