Govt agencies face no punishment in fire incidents

BUET teachers-students organised a human chain remembering deaths of two students in the fire at Bailey Road. They demanded punishment of those who are responsible for the fire incident. The picture was taken from BUET campus on Saturday.Suvra Kanti Das

In most of the big fire incidents in the capital, it was found that government agencies had negligence and there was a lacking in monitoring system.

Similar pictures have been noticed from the Nimtali fire in Old Dhaka in 2010 to the Bailey Road fire incident.

However, punitive action have not been taken against the government agencies in connection with these incidents.

The picture of similar negligence has come to light after the deaths of 46 people in the fire at the eight-storey Green Cozy Cottage building on Bailey Road.

According to the statement of case filed by the police, the restaurants were being run illegally by 'managing' shop inspectors of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK).

Building owning entities, owners of the restaurants and building caretaker have been made accused in the case filed by the police. But none of the government agencies or officials have been accused.

Analysing at least nine big fire and explosion incidents in the capital in the last five years, it is found that after the incidents, the government agency officials, who are in charge of monitoring, are trying to pass their liabilities to other agencies.

This time the ruling party MP and former housing and public works minister SM Rezaul Karim has criticised the move of such impunity. In the parliament on Saturday, he said a report was submitted against 62 people in connection with the fire incident at FR Tower in Banani in 2019. But cases were not filed against all of them.

The negligence of government agencies has been found in the investigation of some fire accidents. But they are given 'impunity'.

This time the ruling party MP and former housing and public works minister SM Rezaul Karim has criticised the move of such impunity. In the parliament on Saturday, he said a report was submitted against 62 people in connection with the fire incident at FR Tower in Banani in 2019. But cases were not filed against all of them.

Twenty seven people died in the fire at FR Tower in Banani. SM Rezaul Karim was housing and public works minister at the time.

In the parliament on Saturday, he also said, "We identified 1,300 buildings which had no proper design and most of the floors of those buildings were constructed without approval. But we couldn't demolish those buildings. This is also some sort of impunity."

The building was risky for fire. They sent three letters alerting the building owners. But the authorities did not take any measures.
Fire service director general Brigadier General Md Main Uddin

Health minister Samanto Sen yesterday also talked about the role of the government agencies. He said RAJUK also needs to remain more alert.
Meanwhile, the identity of 44 people, who died in the fire at Bailey Road on Thursday night, has been confirmed. The identity of two people is yet to be confirmed. Bodies of 43 people have been handed over to the families.

Regular fire incidents

Big incidents of fire are taking place regularly in Dhaka. A total of 71 died in the fire at the chemical warehouse at Churirhatta in Chawkbazar of Old Dhaka on 20 February 2019. After one month, a fire broke out at FR Tower, 44 people lost lives in explosions at two buildings in the Science Laboratory area in 2023 and at one building at Moghbazar area in 2021.

Banga Bazar complex, New Market and Krishi Market caught fire in 2023. Although the number of casualties was less, the damage was extensive. More incidents of fire took place in Dhaka and people were lost in those incidents.

An injured person is being taken to Dhaka Medical Collage Hospital
Dipu Malakar

Risk of fire at buildings comes up regularly during the inspection by the Fire Service and Civil Defence Directorate. They inspected 5374 buildings across the country in 2023. They identified 2118 risky buildings. They mentioned 424 buildings as highly risky.

The fire service inspected 24,193 buildings in four years from 2020. Of the buildings, some 7,801 are risky for fire and of these, 1803 buildings are highly risky. Authorities of all the buildings have been asked to ensure fire safety.

The fire service said the buildings, which caught fire since, were in the list of fire risk. As a result, if fire safety measures had been taken in time, damages might have been minimised.

After the deaths of 46 people in the fire incident at Bailey Road, fire service director general Brigadier General Md Main Uddin, speaking to newsmen, said the building was risky for fire. They sent three letters alerting the building owners. But the authorities did not take any measures.

Fire service’s director (operations and maintenance) lieutenant colonel Mohammad Tazul Islam Chowdhury was asked why fire service only issue letters but does not seal the buildings. He told Prothom Alo that the fire service has been given the power to file cases in Fire Prevention and Extinction Act 2003 but the rules are suspended. That’s why the fire service has nothing to do except issuing letters.

He said the fire service sent the copy of the letters to all relevant government bodies including City Corporation to take necessary action.

In April 2023, massive fire broke out at four markets in Bangabazar Complex and Dhaka New Super Market (South) within just 11 days. Fire service several times warned the authorities of these five markets labeling these as at high risk of fire. The fire service authorities issued letters to Bangabazar Complex on 10 occasions. It also asked the Dhaka south city corporation authorities to take action regarding Bangabazar. But no action was taken.

Relatives of a victim cry at Dhaka Medical College Hospital
Prothom Alo

A fire service official on condition of anonymity told Prothom Alo that Bangabazar Complex and Dhaka New Super Market had no fire safety mechanism at all. The fire service visited markets of Dhaka after 2019 and marked a total of 1,048 markets as risky and highly risky. No action was taken despite sending several letters to the concerned markets and city corporations.

Dhaka south city corporation’s chief executive officer (CEO) Mizanur Rahman told Prothom Alo that there is no scope to blame anyone here. There are many risky buildings which need to be demolished. But the owners of the shops usually bring directives from the High Court against demolition.

He said the city corporation authorities faced the same problem in Bangabazar Complex.

Fire service officials think city corporation authorities are to blame for the fire at Bailey Road. They said restaurants and shops were rented at that building without any approval. The city corporation issued the trade license without any sort of verification.

Asked about the allegation, DSCC’s CEO Mizanur Rhaman said it wants to provide hassle-free service while issuing trade licenses and that’s why it sees some general papers such as contracts.

The relatives of the victims of Bailey Road fire ask how would the safety of citizens be ensured while RAJUK would remain blind, city corporations would issue licenses so easily and fire service would only issue letters.

Teachers and students of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) hold a human chain as a student died in the fire.

The students hold different placards. One of the placards read, “Who is to blame for this negligence?”

Negligence found, no action taken

According to investigators of three fire incidents at Moghbazar, Siddiq Bazar and Science Laboratory areas, all these incidents took place due to leakage of gas from pipelines.  Negligence of officials of Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Limited was found in these incidents. But who is responsible could not be determined.

Police sources said who among the Titas officials are responsible in these incidents cannot be determined but preparation is on to submit final reports in these cases.

The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of police is investigating the cases regarding explosions in Moghbazar and Siddiq Baza.

CTTC’s deputy commissioner Rahmatullah Chowdhury, who is in charge of inspection of investigation (তদন্ত তদারক কর্মকর্তা) in two cases, told Prothom Alo that final report would be submitted to the court soon in two cases.

After the death of 26 people at seven-storied Queen Sanitary Market in Siddiq Bazar on 7 March last year, it was revealed that the building had approval of five stories. In the explosion at a chemical warehouse at Chawkbazar’s Churihatta, lack of monitoring from concerned government bodies including city corporation, RAJUK, fire service and explosives department.

Md Asif, who lost his father at Churihatta fire, told Prothom Alo yesterday that although around five years had elapsed since the incident, only his deposition as the plaintiff of the case was heard in the court. He expressed apprehension about the fate of the case.

Negligence of various organisations was found after the tragic fire at a chemical warehouse in Nimtoli in 2010 that claimed 126 lives. Since then, it has been heard that the chemical warehouses will be relocated from Old Dhaka. But so far it has not been possible to shift the chemical warehouses.

‘Accidents will continue to take place’

Former director general of fire service brigadier general (retd) Ali Ahmed Khan told Prothom Alo that fire service, city corporation, RAJUK and other government agencies must take a coordinated initiative to take effective measures against the buildings at risk of fire. If not, accidents will continue to take place.

A task force consisting of all agencies started a drive to make Old Dhaka free from chemical warehouses after the fire at Churihatta. But the drive stopped soon after the start.

A reader commented in a report published on Prothom Alo’s online section: Vehicles found unfit after accident; clinics found unlicensed after wrong treatment, flaw in the design of buildings is found after fire incidents. The only question is what do the people involved do?