Nimtali tragedy: When will the government come to its senses?

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Following the death of 124 people in a devastating fire at Nimtali in Dhaka on 3 June 2010, the government said chemical factories and warehouses would be shifted from Old Dhaka as soon as possible and legal action would be taken against the people responsible for the incident. But it is unfortunate and unpardonable that the pledge has not been implemented over the last 12 years.

No case was filed regarding the devastating incident, says a Prothom Alo report. A General Diary (GD) was filed at Bangshal police station only. Current officer-in-charge (OC) at the police station know nothing of current status of the investigation.

“I don’t know whether any GD was filed in connection with the fire at Nimtali more than 12 years ago,” said Bangshal police station OC, Abul Khayer, to Prothom Alo. This is sheer irresponsibility that neither the OC of a police station know anything regarding the investigation of an incident that killed 124 people nor the preceding officials apprised with of the latest updates.

On 3 June, 2010, a fire broke out at the ground floor of 43 Nabab Katra in Old Dhaka. The fire engulfed the adjacent areas very soon as there was a huge amount of chemicals there. Another fire broke out in Churihatta of Chawk Bazar of Old Dhaka on 20 February 2019, just nine years after the incident, killing 77 people. Police on 15 February submitted charge sheet to the court against eight people including the building owner Mohammad Hasan Sultan and his brother Hossain Sultan in this connection. Recently the case has been shifted to Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge court. But no investigation has been done in the Nimtali fire incident. Several persons involved with the investigation then said, 124 bodies were handed over to the families at the order of DC following the GD. No progress has been made since then. Neither have the responsible people been identified.

There is no specific information on the number of chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka. However, a government survey, done at the order of the cabinet division, says there are 1,924 wholesale and retail-level chemical establishments. Innumerable chemical warehouses are scattered around Old Dhaka’s Chawk Bazar, Lalbagh, Armanitola, Imamganj, Islambagh, Mitford, Hazaribagh and Kotwali. A study the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) published says there are around 15,000 warehouses of flammable objects in Old Dhaka.

After the Nimtali fire incident, an investigation committee formed by the Home Ministry, said the fire broke out from the chemicals kept at the warehouse at the ground floor of the building. The committee also placed 17 proposals to make Old Dhaka risk-free. Those include shifting chemical warehouses, taking legal action against unauthorised factories, verifying before giving licenses for storing and trading of chemicals and ensuring the construction of buildings following building code.

Old Dhaka has not been freed of chemical and plastic factories even in the past 12 years. No result was achieved from the intermittent raids the Dhaka South City Corporation had conducted. At the same time, the initiative of setting up a separate industrial zone for plastic factories in Munshiganj has not been implemented as yet. Though the Churihatta incident took place following the Nimtali fire incident, the government is yet to come to its senses. When will it come to senses?