Old Dhaka Fire at Chemical warehouses: An ever-looming danger
12:00 AM, February 17, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:39 PM, February 21, 2019

An ever-looming danger

Chemical warehouses, factories continue to operate in Old Dhaka

More than eight years after the devastating fire in Old Dhaka's Nimtoli that killed 123 people, chemical warehouses, considered prime fire hazards, are still being run in the old parts of the city, due to lack of proper action by the authorities concerned.

Residents of the old town say some 1,000 chemical warehouses, factories and sales outlets are still being run in the over-populated residential areas, although Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has stopped providing new licences as well as renewal of old ones since last year.

The chemical warehouses and stores are mostly located in Mitford, Armanitola, Kayettuli, Agamasi Lane, Islambagh, Bangshal, Shaheednagar, Chawkbazar, Imamganj and Babubazar areas.

The 2010 Nimtoli tragedy caused a public outcry to relocate chemical warehouses and stores from the area, but little has been actually done.

According to a survey of Fire Service and Civil Defence conducted at the end of 2017, a total of 360 factories and stores of chemicals were found in the areas under wards 24 and 35 of DSCC. However, the real number would be more than that, said locals.

Last Tuesday, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said a drive will be carried out against warehouses and factories involving 20 types of hazardous chemicals in Old Dhaka from this week, by a joint team including representatives of chemical businesses.

Rakib, a resident of Lalbagh, was cautiously optimistic about the news. “It's a great initiative to free the residential areas of fire hazard, but if there is no monitoring to follow up the drive, these factories might return.”

His apprehension is not baseless.

A team comprising officials of DSCC, Dhaka Deputy Commissioner's Office, Department of Explosives and Fire Service and Civil Defence conducted a week-long drive in Old Dhaka against the chemical warehouses and stores from March 1, 2018, but the scenario did not really change.

Tk 6.25 lakh was realised from nine factory owners and two persons were sentenced to prison during the drive, said an official of the DSCC. But no further action was taken.

According to Bangladesh Environment Conservation Rules 1997, no industry can operate in and around a residential area using hazardous chemicals or goods.

Director of Operations and Maintenance of Fire Service and Civil Defence Maj AKM Shakil Newaz said generating awareness among people is very important so that they do not allow any chemical store or warehouse in their area.

Local councillors also can play an important role in this regard, he said. “It is very difficult to locate this kind of warehouses as they do this business secretly,” he said. 

Chief Inspector of Department of Explosives Shamsul Alam said they have not given any permission to set up any store or chemical storehouse in old town for the last seven to eight years.

Councillor of ward-35 of DSCC Md Abu Sayeed said in his knowledge there is no illegal chemical warehouse. If there are any, they must be operating secretly, he said. “We will again take action if we find such kind of warehouses.”

Arif Hossain, general secretary of Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Association, said they will relocate their warehouses and showrooms after allotment of places from the government.

“Without rehabilitation, any move against it will harm the industry as well as a huge number of people, who are involved directly or indirectly with the business,” he said.

 

RELOCATION IN LIMBO

In April 2011, the government decided to shift all chemical warehouses from residential areas to industrial zones in Keraniganj or Kamrangir Char. But the process is still on paper, as a Tk 201.81 crore project named “Chemical Shilpa Nagar” which was approved last year by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council is yet to begin work.

Saiful Alam, director of the project, said land acquisition work for the three-year project is yet to start.

The project, to be implemented on 50-acre land, is scheduled to be completed in June 2021.

An agreement between government and three organisations -- Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchants' Association; Bangladesh Paints, Dyes and Chemical Merchants' Association and Bangladesh Acid Merchants' Association -- was signed in this regard, said another ministry of industries official. 

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