Relocation of inflammable chemicals depots from old Dhaka still uncertain

21 February 2021

DHAKA's old town is still unsafe for its residents as the government failed to relocate inflammable chemicals depots from the area even after two years of the deadly Chawkbazar fire which killed 70 people and injured many others on February 20, 2019. Local people said, the city officials are now indifferent regarding the illegal risky chemical business going on unabated  as media focus shifted to another issue after the inferno.
Residents said that the chemical business had restarted in the area soon after the Dhaka South City Corporation led taskforce suspended the drive against risky chemical trade immediately after the fire incident. All the hazardous factories in this area are now illegal as the corporation had not been renewing any of the 2,000 trade licences since 2018-19 fiscal. After the Nimtoli fire, the issue of factory relocation came to the fore as the neighborhood was highly susceptible to fire incidents due to the presence of a huge number of plastic and chemical plants and warehouses. The government then considered four projects to relocate four types of industries -- chemical, plastic, printing and light electronics. Even until the Chawkbazar fire, the implementation of the projects remained at the preliminary stage mainly due to problems associated with land acquisition and bureaucratic tangles.
The latest disaster could have been avoided had the authority taken prompt action following recommendations of the taskforce formed after the Nimtoli fire. Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation has been working for construction of chemical warehouses on 308-acre area land at Sirajdikhan of Munshiganj to relocate the deadly business. BSCIC officials said that the Tk 1,600 crore project had been scheduled for completion by June 2022 but it might need further extension as its implementation pace is too slow.
Two years after the Chawkbazar fire incident which could be avoided if the authorities learned from the 2010 Nimtoli fire, the victims' relatives are still waiting for justice. To stop recurring fire incidents, the government should take master plan widening roads, maintaining public space and constructing cluster model buildings. Indifference to people's safety must not be tolerable. The authority should give priority on project completion by deadline following cost-effectiveness, accountability and transparency of the projects. Development becomes mockery when people die of wilful negligence of government, and the responsible remain unaccountable for their misdeed and inaction.

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