Playing with fire, literally
THE fire at a chemicals warehouse at Becharam Deuri on January 15 provides a clear indication of very little progress insofar as the government’s plan to relocate chemicals warehouses, factories and shops from the densely-populated Old Dhaka is concerned although more than three years and a half has elapsed since the Nimtali inferno on June 3, 2010, which left at least 124 people killed. It is worth noting that a task force commissioned by the government in the wake of the tragedy came up with a 19-point recommendation for relocation of these establishments from Old Town. It is also worth noting that an inter-ministerial meeting, chaired by the then home minister, in April 2011 assigned two committees—one for selecting the relocation site and the other for framing relocation guidelines—to come up with suggestion in line with the task force’s recommendations. While the site selection committee, as its head was quoted in a report published in New Age on Saturday as claiming, submitted its report in stipulated time, proposing Keraniganj as the relocation site, there has been little progress since.
Although a member of the Bangladesh Chemicals and Perfumery Merchants’ Association claimed that a number of owners have already shifted their factories to other areas on their own, many buildings at Nawab Katra, Bangshal, Siddique Bazar, Babu Bazar, Islambagh and Armanitola still house chemical factories and stores. Frighteningly still, according to fire service and civil defence officials, there have been a number of factory fires in the area since the Nimtali inferno. Little wonder that the residents of Old Town live in constant fear of a recurrence of a devastating fire. One needs to keep in mind that the buildings in Old Dhaka have been built in dangerously close proximity with each other. Moreover, the roads and lanes there are generally narrow that make vehicular movement quite challenging. As such, in case of a fire, the flame could spread across the area within a very short time and the fire fighters would find it difficult to even access the area, let alone effectively carry out their operation. With many of the buildings still housing chemicals factories, warehouses and stores, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the entire area may be sitting on a ticking bomb.
The government needs to realise that it may be endangering the lives of hundreds, even thousands, by dithering over relocation of chemicals factories, warehouses and stores from Old Town. Hence, it needs to act effectively and act now.
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