FOUR fire incidents in Dhaka in about a month and a half — at Chawkbazar in Old Town on February 20, in the FR Tower at Banani on March 28, in the City Corporation kitchen market at Gulshan 1 on March 30 and in the kitchen market at Khilgaon on April 4 — left 96 people dead. The kitchen market fires, which caused no casualties though, caused huge losses to the traders as all the 211 shops at the Gulshan market and 25 shops at the Khiogaon market were burnt. The number of fire incidents taking place only in Dhaka in the past three months is, in fact, 234 and while several hundred people became injured in the incidents, no casualties were reported but from the Chawkbazar and FR Tower fires. The fires — which brought to the fore the issues of the National Building Code and the Bangladesh Fire Fighting and Prevention Act having been violated in most of the city high rises, with fire-fighting mechanism and fire safety issues largely being absent and ignored — call the attention of all — the government, the government agencies concerned, the people who have erected such buildings, the people who live there and others who have almost never made any noise loud enough to make the government attend to the issue — for having in place measures to head off any disaster from fires.
Rajuk officials are reported have said that 4,16,091 buildings have been constructed in the past nine years on 1,528 square kilometres of areas under Rajuk jurisdiction, composed of the capital city and the cities of Gazipur and Narayanganj, but more than 3,70,803 of them are unapproved. What remains further worrying is that breaches of the building code and the fire safety law have also been reported from other big cities such as Chattogram, Sylhet and Khulna. Such a large-scale violation of the building and fire safety laws in all the big cities together would certainly paint a very grim picture while pointing to glaring failures of the authorities looking after the development and planning of the cities. Rajuk officials have named mostly four kinds of breaches — illegal vertical and horizontal expansion of buildings, no adherence to fire safety protocol and no space being left around and between buildings. But they are enough to compound the fire safety situation. Experts believe that the situation at hand is the result of a pervasive culture of no or poor enforcement of the laws that guide building and constructions.
Such a huge number of buildings, not just in the capital city but also in other big cities, being constructed and expanded illegally is definitely the results of the greed of the building owners. They must be punished after proper investigation and identification. But the government must remember that the laws exist to stop people from committing crimes out of greed. The government must, therefore, hold to account all the agencies and officials looking after the development and planning of the cities found responsible, in credible and fair investigation, for such lawlessness in the area. No individual or entity can flout the laws on such a massive scale without the collusion of government agencies and officials involved in the process.
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