Gas had leaked out from a hole in an abandoned pipeline of Titas Gas in the basement of the building in Siddique Bazar of Old Dhaka, causing the massive explosion. This has been the finding of the preliminary investigations by the fire service and the police's Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC)'s bomb disposal unit.
The CTTC bomb disposal squad said they had unearthed an abandoned gas pipeline of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company in the basement of the seven-storey building known as Queen Sanitary Market in Siddique Bazar of the capital. There had been a kitchen in the basement in the past and a restaurant on the ground floor of the building. The kitchen had a commercial gas connection of Titas Gas. In 2001, the gas line was disconnected from the riser, but the connecting line was not removed and there was still a flow of gas there. The gas had leaked from a hole in the pipeline and had accumulated in an air-conditioned room in the basement of the building. And that is where the explosion took place, CTTC believes.
However, managing director of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company, Md Harunur Rashid Mollah, speaking to Prothom Alo, said there is no scope for any legal gas connection in the basement. He is unaware of any such gas connection in the Siddique Bazar building. A Titas Gas team is working there. If any such evidence arises, the matter will be investigated.
CTTC findings, after an inspection of the explosion site, revealed that there was an approximate 20 metre gas line leading from a rise at the back of the seven-storey building. Additional deputy commissioner (ADC) of CTTC's bomb disposal unit Rahmat Ullah Chowdhury told Prothom Alo, after the basement was air-conditioned, the rooms there remained closed. There were five shops in the basement. As the shops were air-conditioned, there was no air ventilation and the gas began to accumulate there. Some sort of spark there led to the explosion.
According to the fire service, when members of their rescue team arrived at the spot, they could get the smell of gas. They immediately contacted the Titas Gas authorities. Titas Gas workers came and disconnected the gas connections with the building.
Member of the investigation committee set up by the fire service and Dhaka division deputy director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, Dinmoni Sharma, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that two officials of Titas Gas came and shut down the gas connection which had been repaired seven days ago. The next day, Wednesday, Titas Gas officials came to the site and said that there had been no smell of gas. However, it was only natural for there to be no smell of gas there, a day after the connection had been shut.
The horrendous explosion had taken place on Tuesday from the basement to the second floor of a seven-storey building located in Siddique Bazar in Old Dhaka. Till 11:00 pm Thursday, 23 people had died as a result of the explosion. Thursday afternoon, firemen recovered the body of Mehdi Hasan, a trader, under the stairs of the basement. Another victim of the explosion, Arafat Yasin, succumbed to his injuries and died at 8:30pm Thursday, while undergoing treatment at the Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute. He was an employee of a sanitary fittings shop in the building. Over a hundred people were injured in the explosion, with 23 still undergoing treatment.
The owners of the seven-storey building, Wahidur Rahman and Matiur Rahman, and the owner of one of the shops in the building, Abdul Motaleb Hossain, were detained on Wednesday. On Thursday they were shown arrested under Section 54 for the Code of Criminal Procedure Code and, through the court, taken on two-day remand by the Detective Branch (DB) of police.
Meanwhile, Dhaka City Corporation has hung up a banner outside the building, marking it has a risky building. On Thursday morning, fire service personnel began rescue work on the third day there. Basically they were removing water that had accumulated in the basement. There have not been any heavy equipment in their rescue operations so far.
Officials of the city development authority RAJUK on Thursday afternoon inspected the site and said that the building had 24 columns, 9 of which had been damaged. The other columns had been affected too. In order to prevent the upper floors from collapsing, work began under supervision of RAJUK from 9:00pm Thursday night, to set up steel pipes from the basement to the first floor of the building. The pipes were 6 inch in diameter and 20 feet in height. Earlier at around 7:00pm, RAJUK officials arrived at the spot with two vans carrying nine pipes. One of the officials said, "The pipes are being used to provide support to the damaged columns so that the building doesn't collapse."
The fire service could not finish their rescue operations till Wednesday, a day after the explosion. Shoring machinery is required for carrying out a rescue operation in risky buildings, which the fire service does not have.
Case in Science Laboratory explosion
Just 54 hours before the Siddique Bazar explosion, at around 11:00 am Sunday morning, an explosion took place on the third floor of Shireen Bhaban, a building in the Science Laboratory area of the capital Dhaka. Three persons died and 15 were injured in the incident. The cause behind the explosion is said to be a leakage in a Titas Gas connection, leading to the gas accumulating in a closed room on the third floor of the building.
After the incident, Titas Gas officials inspected the site and said that there was a gas connection on the ground floor of the building, but none on the second or third floor.
However, the officer-in-charge (OC) of the New Market police station, Shafiqul Ghani, told Prothom Alo on Thursday that a gas connection pipe had been found on the third floor of the building. It was being investigated as to whether accumulated gas, having leaked from the connection, had resulted in the explosion.
The police filed a case on Wednesday under the Explosives Act, regarding the explosion in the building at the Science Laboratory area. Deputy Commissioner of the police Ramna Division, Shahidullah, confirmed this.
The police say that they are looking into whether it is the owner of the building or the tenants who are responsible for the explosion.
Other explosions due to Titas negligence
On 27 June 2021, a huge explosion in the four-storey building in Maghbazar of Dhaka city, led to 12 persons being killed. CTTC filed a case in that incident, on charges of death due to negligence. Officials involved in the investigation on Thursday told Prothom Alo that there was similarity in the negligence of Titas at Maghbazar and Siddique Bazar. In both incidents, gas had leaked from abandoned Titas gas lines and accumulated in closed air-conditioned rooms. In both cases, sparks had set off the explosion, resulting in the similar damages to the buildings. In both incidents there had been an extremely loud noise, and the front part of the buildings had collapsed and fallen onto the road in front, causing immense damage.
According to CTTC sources connected to the investigations into the Maghbazar incident, negligence of Titas as well as concerned officials of RAJUK had been found. That structure had been a 60-year-old residential building, but was being used for commercial purposes. The process is on to file chargesheets against the Titas and RAJUK officials found guilty of negligence.
Earlier, on 4 September 2020, a fire had broken out in an air-conditioned mosque in Talla of Siddhirganj in Narayanganj, from an explosion of accumulated gas. In that incident, 34 persons had burned to death. Police investigations revealed the negligence of eight officials and employees of Titas in the incident.
Managing director of Titas Gas Company, Md Harunur Rashid Mollah, speaking to Prothom Alo, said there may have been negligence in the past. Now there is strict monitoring to ensure that gas supply is completely shut off when the lines are disconnected. Also, initiative has been taken to replace old pipelines with new ones in Dhaka and Narayanganj. A project in this regard awaits approval.
On 4 September 2020, a total of 34 persons died in a fire that had resulted from a gas leakage in Narayanganj. After that, Titas Gas said they had identified 1,622 leakages in the gas lines in the Titas distribution areas. The leakages had been repaired and were regularly checked. These leakages lead to both wastage of gas as well as risk of serious accidents.
The pipelines of Dhaka's Titas, Sylhet's Jalalabad and Chattogram's Karnaphuli gas transmission companies are mostly over 30 years old. The companies detect the leaks after receiving complaints from the subscribers. But in 2021, new technology was introduced in Chattogram to detect the leakages. Initially 87 leakers were detected in checking 50km of pipeline. Of there, there had been serious risk of 49 of these leakages had not been speedily repaired.
Titas officials say that at the end of the pipelines to supply gas to households, there is a riser or connecting point and in some instances, the riser is inside the house. It could be inside a storeroom or any closed space. Gas can leak out from there, accumulate and lead to devastating fires. Then again, in some instances, gas lines are disconnected, but the gas supply is not cut off. As a result, gas begins to accumulate in the abandoned lines and can leak out, causing an explosion.
Every month clients in Dhaka and adjacent areas make 500 to 600 complaints to Titas' central emergency gas control centre. Over 500 of these are related to gas leakages. Many of the gas pipeline leakages are a result of the government's ongoing development work in various areas. This is causing an increased in accidents. In 2020-21 there had been 281 fire accidents and in 2021-22 this increased to 311.
Experts say one explosion after the other is taking place due to negligence by Titas. The carelessness of Titas officials had led to a large number of deaths in a matter of two and a half years in explosions at the mosque in Narayanganj and at the buildings in Maghbazar, Science Laboratory and Siddique Bazar in Dhaka. Titas Gas simply avoids taking responsibility. Unless action is taken against those responsible, such incidents will continue.
Former director (operations) of the fire service, Maj Shakil Newaz (retd), told Prothom Alo, it first must be checked as to whether the government agencies in charge of monitoring residential and commercial buildings, as well as gas and electricity connections, are carrying out their duties properly. If anyone is found negligent of their duties, action must be taken against them.