THE government’s response to tackling to grave risk of fire in a rapidly urbanised city such as Dhaka remains shockingly unchanged. After each fire, the government and its agencies set up committees to investigate the incidents and express a strong commitment to preventing such fires in future. The same has happened in the case of investigation committees set up in the wake of the FR Tower fire. Five committees were set up by the Fire Service and Civil Defence Department, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, the housing and public works, the home affairs and the disaster management ministry to establish the reason and find out any irregularity in the building design approval. None but the committee that the disaster management ministry set up has so far submitted the report. The institution of the committees thus appear to be an attempt at managing public outrage as was seen in the past when similar committees have bought time until the furore dies down.
People have by now grown on the habit of thinking the establishment of investigation committees as a futile exercise as in most cases reports are delayed for an indefinite period. In the unlikely events when reports are submitted, they are not made public or recommendations are not followed. The committee of the disaster management ministry submitted the report on April 8 but it has been decided that findings would not be made public, which only impedes any possible accountability of the city authorities. The fire at Chawkabazar that left 70 people dead also gave birth to at least four committees. Home ministry officials in early March said that they would make the report public but no report has been made public, only the media were briefed about some findings. Urban planners have, meanwhile, expressed concern about the conflicting and confusing comments that the committee members have made. In 2010, the Nimtali fire that left at least 124 dead also witnessed similar investigation. The committee set up at the time made 17 recommendations including relocation of flammable chemical factories, which has remained unimplemented. Civic groups and urban planners are, therefore, not wrong when they see such investigations as a futile exercise at the expense of public money.
In less than a month, at least 96 people died in fires in the capital city, which could have been prevented if the authorities had been vigilant about building design approval and occupancy certificate issuance. With the full knowledge of the rampant violation of the building code and fire safety regulations, Rajuk has allowed more than 6,000 buildings, identified risky and vulnerable, to stand tall. It is, therefore, time that the government abandoned this delay tactic and took action against Rajuk, the city authorities and building owners for their negligence. Such deliberate delay has already proved fatal.
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