Relocate chemical warehouses immediately

A fire at a building housing chemical outlets in the ground floor in Armanitola of Old Dhaka took five lives and injured another 20.

According to reports published in Prothom Alo, there were 18 chemical shops on the ground floor of the building. The fire broke out in one of the shops and spread all over the building within minutes. The residents of the back flats escaped to the next building through windows, but the occupants of the front flats got trapped. Four people died in the fire on the day while another one succumbed to his injuries today, Sunday.

Such incidents of fire often occur in Old Dhaka, resulting in the loss of lives and property. Earlier in 2010, 124 people including women and children were killed in a massive fire broke out in chemical shops and warehouses in Nimtali of Old Dhaka.

The government at the time called for the relocation all the chemical outlets and warehouses from Old Dhaka as soon as possible. Several committees and taskforces were formed in this regard. After 11 years, the project is yet to be completed. The latest incident of Armanitola proved that the risks of fire in Old Dhaka area remain as grave as before.

In another incident, at least 71 people were killed in a similar fire broke out in Churihatta area of Old Dhaka on 20 February 2019. Although the origin of the fire was a gas cylinder blast, the fire took a massive shape because of inflammable chemicals. Old Dhaka with its dense population and such warehouses and shops full of various chemicals is prone to catch fire. That is why it has been recommended time and again to relocate those chemical businesses.

The traders of chemical goods said, they have been in the business for years. Although operating from Old Dhaka is convenient for them, they have no problem to shift as per the government arrangements. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Ministry of Industries and the traders in this regard. Yet the chemical businesses were not shifted from Old Dhaka till the date. Although the recent incident of Armanitola stirred new debates, it is difficult to believe that it would bring any solution to the problem.

The businesses of chemical goods are operated in both legally and illegally. Legal traders will not move until the government arranges alternative places for them. But those who are operating without legal permission can be removed at any time. The shops in the building that caught fire on Thursday had no trade licence. In fact, the problem could be solved partially, had the authorities been proactive.

Concerned officials said the temporary project initiated by the government to construct a chemical zone at Shyampur and Tongi is yet to be completed. It is important to relocate all the chemical businesses and warehouses from Old Dhaka without any further delay. Besides, those businesses running without legal permission should be closed at once.