Old Dhaka Fire: Want no chemicals stored here
12:00 AM, February 24, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:58 AM, February 24, 2019

Old towners say enough is enough

Mobilise against chemical storing in their neighbourhood; 2 ex-industries ministers trade blame over warehouse relocation

The grief for the loss of at least 67 lives in the chemical-fuelled Chawkbazar blaze is giving way to the fury against chemical factories and warehouses in Old Dhaka with the demand for their removal from the area getting louder.

Locals in the old town also demand a smooth supply of pipeline gas and an immediate end to the use of risky gas cylinders in their neighbourhoods.

“Chemical warehouses and gas cylinders must be removed soon. Keeping fire extinguishers at every business establishment should be made mandatory,” read leaflets seen on the walls of buildings near the site.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Nasir Uddin, who lost his only son in the fire, said, “I never wanted chemical warehouses in this area. But many locals rent out houses to businessmen for setting up chemical warehouses to make extra money.”

A long-time resident of Churihatta in Chawkbazar, Nasir added, “I have never seen any government take action against the chemical warehouses.”

Pointing to the 2010 Nimtoli fire that claimed about 124 lives, another resident, Faruk Ahmed, said, “The government had started to take action. I don't understand why that stopped...”

Expressing similar views, former industries minister Dilip Barua said after the Nimtoli tragedy, the government decided to relocate chemical factories and warehouses from the densely-populated old town but the decision was never fully implemented.

Visiting fire-ravaged Churihatta as part of a 14-party alliance delegation, he also slammed immediate-past industries minister Amir Hossain Amu for “not executing the decision”.

“It would have probably been easier to shift the chemical warehouses from Old Dhaka had the man who was our industries minister taken it seriously,” said the Samyabadi Dal leader.

Dilip was the industries minister from 2009 till 2013 and during his term the country's deadliest ever chemical-fuelled fire incident took place in Nimtoli in Old Dhaka.

Awami League leader Amu was the industries minister from 2014 till the new cabinet was formed last month.

Dilip said when he was the industries minister, all stakeholders including the Chemical Merchant Association and Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), agreed to the decision to shift the warehouses outside Dhaka.

“That was our commitment. But the whole process did not advance due to some discrete issues,” he said.

“The stakeholders could not compel the government. The building owners are also to be blamed as they kept the issue hidden to make extra bucks.”

Asked about the allegations, Amu suggested asking Barua what he had done as an industries minister to relocate chemical warehouses.

"He [Dilip] was the industries minister when the Nimtoli incident took place. What initiative he had taken at the time? You should ask him this question before asking me about his allegations."

Around 1:15pm yesterday, more than 100 people took to the streets and placed their demands when Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon visited the spot to initiate removing chemicals from Wahed Mansion.

During a search at the building on Friday, fire service officials found several hundred barrels and sacks of chemicals stored in the basement.

Four of the chemicals are highly flammable or combustible and the casualty would have been higher if the flames had reached those, said Prof Abu Bin Hasan Susan of chemistry department at Dhaka University.

In the presence of the mayor yesterday, the clearing of chemicals from the building began around 1:30pm.

Quoting police, Khokon told reporters that the fire originated from the blast of a private car's gas cylinder.

“I have come to know from police that the fire was caused by a private car's gas cylinder explosion,” he said, adding, “There was another car carrying gas cylinders which too exploded. It was like a chain blast.”

However, CCTV footage obtained by The Daily Star suggests the explosion first occurred at Wahed Mansion, centre of Wednesday night's inferno.

The first floor of the building housed a storeroom of perfume cans. On the second floor, there was a storeroom of perfumes alongside three residential flats.

ACTION FOR STORING CHEMICALS

Warehouse owners will face legal action if they store any flammable substances in the old part of the city from now on, the mayor warned.

He urged locals to stay alert so that no one can store any chemical substances there. “We will search each and every house,” he told reporters.

“If anyone violates the instruction, please inform the city corporation, nearby police stations or deputy commissioners immediately.”

He asked all to use the hotline number -- 9556015 -- to contact the authorities in this regard.

Meanwhile, Dhaka Power Distribution Company Ltd completed reinstalling electric poles and wires yesterday. About 180-metre wire was burnt and three polls were damaged on Wednesday.

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