FIRE hazard in Dhaka has increasingly become a concern in view of the unplanned development and illegal operation of chemical warehouses, especially in Old Town of the city. Several fires have taken many lives in the past decade, prompting citizens to demand a relocation of chemical businesses from the area. In 2010, the Nimtali fire left more than 100 people dead. The High Court that time ordered the government to identify unauthorised buildings, warehouses and factories where chemicals, explosives and other inflammable or petroleum products were stored. The committee investigating the fire made 17 recommendations, including the relocation of warehouses to non-residential areas, the enforcement of the Fire Prevention and Extinguishing Rules and the National Building Code and the installation of fire hydrants. About a decade later, in February 2019, the Chawkbazar fire showed that neither the court order nor the recommendations were complied with. The residents are, therefore, not wrong when they blame all authorities for a persistent negligence to fire safety standards in the area.
In 2010, the government for the first time planned to relocate the chemical storage facilities from Old Town as the Nimtali fire broke out from an unauthorised chemical warehouse. The government action, however, remained in planning stages until another fire broke out in an area a decade later. After the Chawkbazar fire, the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation undertook a project for the relocation of chemical warehouses to Munshiganj. The project involving Tk 1,600 crore is expected to be completed by 2022, but no concrete progress but for the project approval has so far been visible. The BSCIC industrial park officials in Munshiganj say that they have not even acquired land. The delay has, meanwhile, allowed the Chemical and Perfumery Merchant Association to continue storing inflammable materials in Old Town. Although city authorities have stopped renewing trade licences for businesses operating in the area, residents complain that traders continue to illegally store hazardous chemicals in residential buildings. Authorities must know that such a delay amounts to criminal negligence.
While Old Town is more at risk of fire hazard, the rest of the capital is not safe either. The March 2019 fire in a building at Gulshan, which left at least 26 people dead, suggests that city authorities are not sincere about adherence to fire safety standards. It is reported that fire safety measures in building construction exist only on paper, not in practice to minimise the cost of construction. Regulatory authorities must, therefore, enforce the fire safety rules in issuing occupancy certificates for new buildings and the government must expedite the relocation of chemical warehouses and business to make Old Town safe for residents.
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