Nine years after it was decided to relocate four types of industries—chemical, plastic, printing and light electronics—from Old Dhaka, the projects are still in their preliminary phases as this newspaper reported yesterday. Almost a decade and as little as 0.20 percent progress (as in the case of relocation of the plastic industry)—the progress rate is ridiculous by any standard. And the culprits are the same old: delay in land acquisition and red tape.
Meanwhile, the risk of similar incidents to the one which prompted these projects, the Nimtoli inferno, remains just as high. In last one year alone, there were at least nine incidents of fire in plastic factories or warehouses in Old Dhaka, and on February 21, at least 67 people died because of a chemical-fuelled fire. Of course, the opposition and reluctance of the owners of these warehouses and industries to relocation is to blame. But, the failure to get these relocation projects off the ground is equally responsible. 1200 plastic factories and 4,000 chemical warehouses or industries still operate out of Old Dhaka, the dangers of which are still too fresh in our minds.
Understandably, land acquisition can be a time-consuming process. But nine-years just to get started for a high-priority project cannot be the norm. And reportedly, at least for one project, multiple years were taken up just on forming committees, holding meetings, selecting the project site, and reaching an agreement with industry owners. The government has a responsibility of ensuring that on its part it has provided the scope for relocation of these factories and warehouses. We have seen similar bureaucratic hurdles and incomplete project completions hamper the relocation of the tannery industry in the recent past. We observed a day of national mourning yesterday; let us also take this cruel incident as the final prod to complete these projects on a high-priority basis, and once and for all, relocate these hazardous industries from Old Dhaka.