Old Dhaka continues risky chemical trade

Rajib Ahmed and Musa Ahmed . Dhaka | Update:

Illegal bus stand at Ujala Match Factory area of Syampur in the capital. The photo was taken on 28 August. Photo: Prothom AloAround five and half months into the Chawkbazar fire that claimed 71 lives, chemical businesses continue to run in a risky manner in Old Dhaka.

Dhaka South City Corporation’s (DSCC) is slow about removing chemical warehouses from Old Dhaka.

A devastating fire broke out at Wahed Mansion of Churihatta in Chawakbazar on 20 February.

Immediately after the incident, a decision was taken to relocate chemical warehouses from thr area, but the initaitive is yet to start.

Two spots were chosen to temporarily shift the chemical warehouses. These were six acres of land at Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation (BSEC) in Gazipur and over six acres of land at Ujala Match Factory at Shyampur of Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC).

This project, to be implemented at a cost of Tk 1.68b by 2020, has not made significant progress.

Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchant Association (BCPMA) advisor Enayet Hossain said nobody talks to them about temporarily shifting the warehouses.
“You will see that everybody will be serious again after another accident,” he told Prothom Alo.

In 2010, another devastating fire took place at Nimtali of Old Dhaka. The fire killed 124 people. After the incident, the industries ministry took a decision to establish a chemical hub. It took eight years to finalise the project.

Following the Churihatta fire incident, the project area was increased to 310 acres from 50 acres. The land acquisition process has only just begun in Sirajdikhan of Munshiganj. The estimated cost of the project is Tk 16.49 billion and it is to be be implemented by 2022.

About the necessity of spending Tk 1.68 billion for temporarily shifting chemical warehouses, industries secretary Abdul Halim said, “We will need up to 2022 to create an industrial belt. The businessmen will build infrastructure there once the land is handed over to them and this will take time.”

Same scenario in Old Dhaka

Following the Churihatta fire on 20 February, a taskforce comprising different agencies conducted drives to remove chemical warehouses from Old Dhaka. It issued an order for the chemical warehouses to be removed between 28 February and 1 April. The drives came to a halt on 10 March.

Taskforce member and DSCC chief waste management officer Zahid Hasan claimed that they have removed chemical warehouses through drives after the Churihatta fire incident.

Now it is the responsibility of the industries ministry to rehabilitate the chemical businessmen.

The taskforce sealed a chemical warehouse at the ground floor of holding No. 54/5 at Imamganj of Old Dhaka on 4 March.

While visiting the spot on 28 August, Prothom Alo correspondent found different types of chemicals being sold there.

Warehouse owner Md Obaidul, however, claimed he does not sell harmful chemicals, but he refused to provide the list of chemicals he was selling.

Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchant Association (BCPMA) president Abdul Jalil admitted that many people are selling chemicals secretly.

About delay to remove chemical warehouses at Old Dhaka, Bangladesh University of Engineering (BUET) professor Syeda Sultana said, “It hardly seems to be a priority of the government”.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.

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