None took steps despite knowing risks

Fire service units working to douse the fire at Banga Bazar.Suvra Kanti Das

The Fire Service and Civil Defence authorities had declared the Banga Bazar complex in the capital’s Fulbaria risky in terms of fire safety four years ago.

The fire service also hung several banners in this regard at that time.

Although everyone knew the complex was at high risk of fire, the government or any other authorities concerned, including the shop owners, did not take any preventive measures.

After the massive fire on Tuesday, which burnt the entire Banga Bazar complex to the ground, none of the government agencies are willing to take the liabilities now.

The Banga Bazar complex in Fulbaria falls in the area under the jurisdiction of the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). The complex includes four adjacent markets. It is owned by the DSCC.

According to the DSCC, there were 2,961 shops in the Banga Bazar complex, which are made of tin and wood. However, the number of shops was double. Although the market is shown as a two storied building in the documents of the DSCC, it was three storied in some parts.

The leaders of the Shop Owners’ Association of the market had extended their shops and parts of the complex illegally.

Apart from the four markets of the Banga Bazar complex, four other markets were burnt down in Tuesday’s fire.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Tuesday, Zahirul Islam, general secretary of the Shop Owners Association, one of the four markets of the Banga Bazar, said, “There was only the office of the association and a mosque on the third floor of their market. However, the other three markets had extended almost the entire building upto third floor and rented it as factories.”

He claimed the fire service mistakenly hung those banners declaring the complex risky.

However, the fire service denounced the claim saying that they had notified the shop owners’ association at least ten times regarding the risk of fire. However, they didn’t take any initiative.

Fire service units working to douse the fire at Banga Bazar
Sazid Hossain

Speaking to the newspersons while monitoring the work of the fire service to control the fire on Tuesday, Brigadier General Md Main Uddin, director general of fire service, said, “We declared this building risky on 2 April 2019 and hung banners in this regard. After that, we notified the market authorities 10 times. We have done all we could do. Despite that the market was open.”

Asked whether the city corporation was notified about the risk or whether the fire was the result of negligence of the DSCC, the fire service director general said, “I don’t have the answer. You should ask the city corporation in this regard.”

Meanwhile, the DSCC is saying that an initiative was taken to demolish the old buildings and construct a new infrastructure for the complex. However, the leaders of the shop owners’ association did not let it happen.

According to sources in the engineering department of the DSCC, a tender was floated to convert the Banga Bazar complex into a 10-story building with steel infrastructure during the tenure of former mayor Sayeed Khokon. Even the work order was issued for the contractor. However, the leaders of the shop owners’ association went to the High Court and brought a stay order to stop the project.

On condition of anonymity, two officials of the engineering department told Prothom Alo that the city corporation did not try hard to cancel the stay order either. Rather, the new mayor approved the file of the stay order after taking charge.

Several sources in the DSCC say that the Banga Bazar complex was controlled by some politically influential traders. Leaders from all political parties, including Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party, used to control the Banga Bazar complex together. The construction of a new building would reduce their influence. Therefore, they did not let it happen.

Notably, there were at least three incidents of fire at the Banga Bazar before Tuesday’s incident. In 1995, an entire market was burnt down. There was a massive fire in 2018 as well.

Fire destroys everything in Banga Bazar, Dhaka, on 4 April 2023
Sazid Hossain

Speaking to Prothom Alo, architect Iqbal Habib said, “Thousands of families have become utterly broken financially due to greed of a few leaders of the shop owners’ association. The plan to construct a building was taken up considering the risk of fire at Banga Bazar. All of those, who had opposed the construction of a building at Banga Bazar, are involved in politics. They did that only for their personal benefit.”

Iqbal Habib further said, “The DSCC mayor himself is a barrister. Why didn’t he challenge the stay order legally? Now everyone has seen the consequence of doing business despite knowing the risk of fire at the Banga Bazar. Products worth billions of taka were burnt. People’s lives and properties are being destroyed in fires one after another in Puran Dhaka. This cannot go on. Someone must take the responsibility."