The devastating fire that occurred during the monsoon at Mohammadpur Krishi Market, owned by Dhaka North City Corporation, highlights the vulnerability of the capital's markets to fire accidents.
The fire started at 3:30 am on Wednesday and was brought under control by the efforts of the fire service, army, navy, and air force after approximately five hours. However, during this time, the fire ravaged 250 shops, leaving countless traders without a means of livelihood.
Following the fire, as is often the case, irregularities and lack of proper management by the market authorities have come to light. Mohammadpur Krishi Market is no exception to this pattern. Initially, fire service and civil defence authorities suspected an electrical short circuit or a mosquito coil as the potential cause of the fire.
However, according to a report by Prothom Alo, there were several factors that could have triggered the fire or any other accident within the market.
The North City Corporation officially allocated 317 shops on paper within the one-storey tin-shed market. However, the stark reality was that there were actually more than 500 shops in the market. Furthermore, shopkeepers and traders constructed illegal warehouses above the ceilings of their shops and rented these out to other traders.
Shockingly, the market lacked essential fire extinguishers and adequate water sources. The Fire Service and Civil Defence had identified the Krishi Market as highly vulnerable to fire six months prior to this tragic incident.
The pressing question arises: Do service organisations like the City Corporation believe their responsibilities end once they establish the market and allocate the shops? Shopkeepers and traders alter the design and structure of the market according to their preferences—so who will oversee and regulate these modifications?
In April, approximately 6,000 shops were engulfed in a horrific fire at Bangabazar and New Market, both owned by Dhaka South City. Even after these two fires, the same distressing pattern of irregularities and mismanagement came forward.
The fire service meticulously inspected Dhaka's shops over a two-year period from 2017 to 2019, identifying shops at risk of fire. In their 2019 publication, they listed 1,048 businesses as vulnerable to fire, with 428 classified as being at high risk.
In the first three months of the current year, the fire service carried out inspection in 58 markets in the capital, all of which were deemed risky.
This information from the fire service underscores the alarming vulnerability of the capital's residents to fire risks. It's not just a matter of fire hazards; many markets teetering on the edge of collapse continue to operate.
For instance, the Karwan Bazar Kitchen Market owned by the North City Corporation was declared abandoned 15 years ago, yet traders persist in risking their lives to conduct business there.
In the face of imminent threats to both human life and property, what actions are being taken by the city corporation, fire service, or government oversight agencies? How many accidents and loss of lives will it take, and how many people need to be pushed into destitution before the authorities awaken from their slumber?
We observe a lack of substantial legal action beyond issuing notices to owners of perilous markets or buildings. Unless we break free from this cycle of irresponsibility and lack of accountability, we will continue to witness such fires and accidents without respite.
Attention must be directed towards the rehabilitation of the traders affected by the Krishi Market fire. Moreover, concerning all other vulnerable markets, it is imperative for the authorities to engage in meaningful dialogue with the traders to find a solution to the fire and accident risks.
If needed, legal measures should be taken to ensure compliance. The security of life and property should never be compromised.