Following the tragic loss of 71 lives in the Churihatta fire, the government initiated the construction of a chemical warehouse in Shyampur, the capital city. The project was launched in November 2019, with an initial promise to be completed within 10 months.
However, it ended up taking approximately four years to finish. Now, a majority of traders are expressing their reluctance to use the temporary warehouse, and their concerns have valid reasons.
The question is whether the Ministry of Industries, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), and Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC), who were responsible for the temporary warehouse's construction, had engaged in discussions with the businessmen before implementing the project. Or, did they adequately prepare and plan for the project's execution before allocating Tk 582.7 million for its completion?
Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) had previously carried out a survey in 2021 and found the existence of 1,924 chemical wholesale and retail shops in Old Dhaka. All these establishments were more or less risky. The temporary warehouses can accommodate only 52 shops whereas about 2,000 shops need to be relocated.
According to the Prothom Alo report, businessmen are reluctant to use chemical warehouses due to limited availability and high rent. Conversely, the BCIC authorities aim to transfer 52 dangerous chemical warehouses from Old Dhaka to Shyampur. How much will the relocation of 52 warehouses reduce the risk of fire?
Old Dhaka's chemical business has been a menace for the area's residents, with fires causing loss of lives for years. After the tragic Nimtali fire, which claimed 125 lives, promises were made to evacuate the warehouses. Initially, there were plans to move the chemical warehouses to Keraniganj, but it didn't materialise.
After another fire incident in Churihatta, the government announced the relocation of the chemical warehouses to Sirajdi, Munshiganj, instead of Keraniganj. The project was scheduled to be completed in June 2021, but now Industry Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun states that if everything goes well, it will be finished by the end of this year. However, there is no clarification on what he means by 'everything.'
If it is assumed that the Munshiganj project will be completed by the end of this year, then what will happen to the warehouses that have been built in Shyampur at a cost of Tk 580 million? The government should discuss with the traders and come to a resolution. Who cares how much money was wasted . After all, nothing happened to those who caused so much waste.
One more thing needs to be noted. It is true that businessmen are currently showing more interest in the Munshiganj chemical village than in Shyampur. However, there remains considerable doubt about their future actions. Nearly every house in Old Dhaka has a chemical warehouse, and after every fire accident, it is revealed that no government authority had given permission to build such warehouses in the area.
There were discussions about this issue for a few days, but then everything went back to normal. If those responsible for the fires in Nimatoli or Churihatta were identified and given exemplary punishment, it would serve as a strong deterrent and make everyone else more cautious.
In a country where the rule of law is fragile, it is only natural that victims of fire and their relatives will continue to suffer, while businesses may collude with the government. Without the goodwill of both the government and the businessmen, there seems to be no other way out of this situation.