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Chemical factories yet to move out of Old Town

Muktadir Rashid

The government is yet to initiate any significant move to relocate hundreds of unauthorised chemical warehouses and factories from the densely populated Old Town of Dhaka to Keraniganj though three and a half years have passed since a deadly fire had ravaged Nimtali in the capital killing 124 people.
As no major initiatives are under way to remove such factories, fire often breaks out in the congested area, posing a threat to the inhabitants.
Successive governments have not even set a deadline for implementation of any of the 19-point recommendation submitted by a taskforce led by Iqbal Khan Chowdhury, the then additional secretary to the home ministry, which was instituted after the June 3, 2010 Nimtali inferno.
‘The frightening memory of Nimtali tragedy still haunts us... We fear such tragedy could repeat as the storing of inflammable chemicals has not been stopped,’ said Iqbal Karim, a resident of the Old Dhaka.     
After the Nimtali blaze, the authorities carried out drives and sealed off over two dozens of chemical warehouses but pressure from the business community forced a sudden suspension of the drive.
The government in an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by the then home minister, Sahara Khatun, on April 20, 2011, had decided to shift chemical factories, depots and stores from the Old Town either to Kamrangirchar or to Keraniganj on the outskirts of the city.
Two committees – one for selecting a suitable site and the other for framing relocation guidelines – have been formed to implement the plan in line with the recommendations of the taskforce.
One of the committees, headed by the chairman of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation, had been asked to select a site and also to oversee land acquisition and earth-filling work at the site for shifting the chemical factories and warehouses.
The then BSCIC chairman, Fakhrul Islam told New Age on Friday that the committee  had submitted the report to the ministry within the stipulated time.
In their reports, the committees had proposed the arrangement of land in Keraniganj for chemical warehouses.
His successor Shyam Sunder Sikder, who took the charge of BSCIC eight months ago, however, admitted that no major progress had been made during his tenure.
A number of senior officials told New Age that as it was a policy decision the ministers concerned could take a decision on the relocation.
But, many buildings at Nawab Katara, Bangshal, Siddique Bazar, Babu Bazar, Islambagh and Armanitola still house chemical factories and stores.
Fire service and civil defence officials said that dozens of fire incidents had taken place in the area since the Nimtali tragedy.
On August 24, 2012, a fire broke out at a shoe factory at Kayettuli near Bangladesh Maath and turned devastating as huge chemicals were stored in the factory. Fire incidents repeated there twice in 2013. On October 17, 2013, a fire broke out at a plastic warehouse in Old Dhaka’s Islambagh.
On January 15, a fire broke out in another warehouse of plastic goods in Old Dhaka.
Brigadier General Ali Ahmed Khan, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said, ‘The area is still vulnerable as the chemical factories and warehouses still operate there...’
As of 2013, fire service officials admitted 90 per cent of the capital’s chemical traders – 867 out of 994 – did not have valid licences issued by the fire service or other agencies
‘Most of us want to be relocated but the government does not seem sincere about it...,’ said a member of Bangladesh Chemicals and Perfumery Merchants’ Association. ‘Many of us have already relocated factories on our own initiatives.’  
When approached for comments on Friday, industries minister Amir Hossain Amu told New Age, ‘I have just taken charge of the ministry...’ He declined comments when asked if any steps would be taken to relocate the factories.

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