Chemical factories should be relocated before another deadly fire

A man cries after the deadly fire in Old Dhaka. Photo: Prothom Alo

Not being able to relocate the chemical factories in Old Dhaka is a big failure of the authorities concerned. Around 200 people were killed in the fires at Nimtali and Churihatta, but the state did not shoulder any responsibility. Similar disasters may happen again, experts apprehend.

According to government data, at least 100 fires were caused by these chemicals while the loss in these fires is being estimation. These storages or factories are illegal themselves, so there is no transparency in the documents. A Transparency International Bangladesh report has revealed that the owners bribe government officials Tk 300 to Tk 250,000 to operate the factories.

The Department of Environment, Department of Explosives, Fire Service and Dhaka South City Corporation --- officials of all these government bodies have sold them for money. The role of these entities in the last decade is questionable. One may wonder if the festivity of bribe all the year round has obstructed the relocation of these chemical factories.

The Department of Explosives had detected 35 super vulnerable chemical establishments in February 2019. But till now they have neither been closed nor relocated. TIB reports reveal that officials of this government entity take the biggest amount of bribes.

From the Nimtali fire in 2010 to last year's fire at Churihatta, a number of big projects have been undertaken. Many big figures have pledged to ensure that these factories get relocated. However, nothing has changed and the projects only gave a quarter the scope to loot public money.

In 2011, a Tk 7 billion project was undertaken to relocate these factories to a 20-acre land in Keraniganj. Had that plan been materialized, we would not have witnessed the Churihatta tragedy. Farcically, the expenses of the project has increased four times while the land was expanded to 39 acres.

Following the Churihatta carnage, it was decided that two temporary storages would be set up near Dhaka. However, there has been no development to this end as well. The government should take the TIB report as a 'wake up' call.

We think relocating these factories won't be easy. This will take much more time. One of the advisers of the perfume businessmen's society claimed that there were no flammable chemicals in Old Dhaka, which is outrageous. This only proves that things won't change so soon. Such factories will be there for days to come.

We believe that implementing the 10 recommendations of the TIB will ensure Old Dhaka's chemical security. The authorities should act immediately to formulate a policy to this end and ensure its due implementation.