IT IS worrying that the government has not yet compensated the families of the victims of the Chawkbazar fire that killed 70 people in Old Town of Dhaka late February 20, 2019. Victim families, at a press conference that eight non-governmental organsiations held on Thursday, have said that the government is yet to fulfil its promise to compensate and rehabilitate them and that they feel abandoned. After the fire, which became disastrous because of chemicals stored there illegally, the prime minister, ministers and Dhaka’s south mayor promised the compensation and government jobs for their dependants, but have so far given only Tk 20,000 for the burial or cremation of each of the deceased. A few of the family members have been offered jobs on muster roll, which is very insecure in nature. Moreover, the government has not even distributed Tk 30 crore, reported to have been donated by private banks to the prime minister’s relief and welfare fund, to the victims. The authorities’ seeking to explain the failure to compensate the families because of complications such as difficulties in selecting genuine successors is also unacceptable a year after the incident.
Besides compensation, the government has failed to deliver justice to the families of the victims by holding to account the people responsible for the fire and to relocate chemical warehouses from Old Town and save residents of the densely populated areas. Old Town residents have demanded the relocation of chemical warehouses since the fire in Nimtali chemical warehouses on June 2, 2010, which left 123 people dead. What the government has so far managed to do is nothing more than a lip service or promissory initiatives. The government and the authorities concerned ran episodic eviction drives after the Nimtali disaster, but to no avail as most of the evicted stores have come back to the places, leaving the areas still dangerous and deadly. Immediately after the Nimtali fire, the government proposed to build a chemical village in Keraniganj for relocation of chemical stores from Old Town, but it has not been able to do so. Another plan to build a temporary and safe chemical warehouse project at Shyampur in Dhaka has not yet begun. A complete relocation of the chemical warehouses, as residents of the areas have for long demanded, is what is needed to ensure the safety of the people living in fear in Old Town as they are said to have been exposed to ‘chemical bombs’.
The government and the authorities concerned must, in such a situation, keep the promises and compensate the families of the victims immediately and adequately. The government must also not delay the relocation of chemical businesses from the densely inhabited part of the capital to head off any further unwarranted disasters.
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