Chemical stores on the ground floor of a residential building at SM Maleh road in Narayanganj. The photo was taken on 25 April, 2021
Dinar Mahmud

In June, 2010, people had seen the horror of fire originated from chemicals at Nimtali in Dhaka. As many as 124 people died of this fire. The first of the 17-point recommendations made by the probe committee formed over this incident was removal of chemical stores and warehouses from residential areas. However, this recommendation had not been implemented.

Then on 20 February 2019, as many as 71 people lost their lives in a fire originating from chemicals at Churihatta in Old Dhaka. After this tragedy, the administration of Narayanganj district became active. They decided to remove chemical warehouses and stores from the residential buildings in Tanbazar area in the city. However, even after two years, the decisions have not been implemented. On the contrary, the new residential buildings in Tanbazar are also being occupied by chemical markets. The fire service officials say these must be removed from residential buildings to avoid risk.

According to Bangladesh Textile, Dyes and Chemical Association, there are more than three hundred chemical stores in the vicinity of Tanbazar area including SM Maleh Road and Loyal Tank Road. These stores sell and stockpile chemicals like caustic soda, power silicone, sodium, nitric acid, sulfuric acid and thinner.

According to the deputy commissioner's (DC) Office, when the owners were asked to remove the chemical stores and warehouses from the residential buildings on 25 February 2019, they requested to give them 10 days. After that, two years have passed but the shops are still there.

When asked about this, Narayanganj’s DC Mostain Billah told Prothom Alo that they have already talked with the business leaders to shift these shops and warehouses to a safe place. They will be given a seven-day deadline to remove these shops after a meeting with them next week. From then on, mobile courts will be conducted regularly for the implementation of the decision.

Various types of chemical stores and warehouses were seen on the ground floor and underground of various residential buildings upon visiting the Tanbazar area on Sunday morning. Some of these buildings are more than six-storied. There are also some educational institutions set up above the chemical stores on the ground floor in some buildings.

While going south along the Tanbazar SM Maleh Road, a chemical store named Colour House was seen on the ground floor of a three-storey building next to Narayanganj Model Police Station. On the west side of the road, there are four chemical stores on the ground floor of Narayanganj Padma City Plaza-4 and four more on the ground floor of Padma City Plaza-1.

There are two regional branches of two banks on the third floor of the 10-storied building named Padma City Plaza-1. Rest of the floors of the building are being used for residential purposes. In 2017, a fire broke out in a branch of a private bank on the third floor of that building and a security guard died in the incident.

Seeking anonymity, an owner of a flat in the building said they are concerned about the chemical stores on the ground floor. However, they have nothing to do about it, he added. The ground floor of the building had been turned into a chemical market even before the construction work of the building was completed.

Apart from this, a chemical store named Alamin Chemical and Dyes was found on the ground floor of a seven-storey residential building on Loyal Tank Road. There are two educational institutions named Khadiajatul Kubra Mahila Madrasa and Abujar Gifari Madrasa on the second and third floor of the building.

Abdul Wahab, a trader of Tanbazar, said, “Hundreds of chemical stores and warehouses are scattered in a small crowded area. We have been in fear of a massive accident for a long time. These shops will not be removed until a massive disaster.”

However, defying the fears of the locals, the traders of Tanbazar claimed that they do not sell or stockpile any kind of flammable chemical.

Ali Hossain, owner of Arobi Colour, told Prothom Alo, “We mainly sell caustic soda, bleaching, hydrose and acetic acid. None of these are flammable.”

Liton Saha, president of Bangladesh Textile, Dyes and Chemical Association, reiterated these words. He said, “The chemicals sold in Tanbazar are hundred per cent safe. However, we do not know whether someone is hoarding any flammable chemicals or not.”

However, Belal Hossain, senior station officer of Narayanganj Fire Service and Civil Defence, told Prothom Alo that these shops store chemicals that ignite in an instant and are also flammable in water. They are making such false claims for the sake of their business. Although it is mandatory to take permission from the fire service to run such businesses, the traders do not care about it, he added.

The fire service official said that highly flammable chemicals are sold and stored in every chemical shops in Tanbazar. If any fire breaks out in this area, big vehicles of fire service would not be able to enter as the roads are narrow. There is no water source in the area to put out the fire either. The roads are packed with parked trucks and other vehicles too. As the area is overpopulated, it is very difficult to douse the fire here.

*This report appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu