Ignoring fire risk, most shopping malls and markets in the capital have been running without mandatory safety measures for years, posing a serious threat, according to Fire Service and Civil Defence.
The fire at DNCC Kitchen Market in Gulshan yesterday is an example of reluctance and indifference in this regard as the market authorities did not comply with the recommendation made by the fire service after a fire incident there in 2017.
“After the 2017 fire, we had made several recommendations to the [DNCC] market authorities regarding fire safety. However, none of those were implemented,” said Maj Shakil Newaj, director (operation) of the fire service.
In 2017, Fire Service and Civil Defence identified 622 shopping malls and markets in Dhaka as “extremely risky” and 678 others as “risky” after conducting a survey on 1,305 commercial establishments from October to November 2017. Only five buildings were marked as safe.
The extremely risky (with no fire-safety necessities) or risky (with some fire-safety measures installed) markets and malls have been in operation for years without fire-safety clearance and licence, said Major Shakil.
The establishments include private and government-owned malls, super markets and kitchen markets, he added.
They also issued several letters to the market authorities, including the ones owned by the two city corporations, to take necessary safety measures, but most of them did not comply, said Wahidul Islam, assistant director of warehouse and fire prevention of the fire service.
DNCC market was in the extremely risky category.
According to Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC) 2006 and Fire prevention Act 2003, a market will have to keep sufficient fire extinguishers (an extinguisher for every 550 square feet) and sufficient staircases.
A market should have sufficient reserve water, a diesel pump, an electrical pump and a jockey pump, arrangement for emergency lightings, smoke and heat detector, fire alarm system and sprinkler.
Also, it will have to have fire safety and evacuation plan, emergency exists with smoke-proof stairwells.
But most malls and markets do not comply with the requirements, Wahidul Islam said.
During a recent visit to around 15 DSCC and DNCC markets, The Daily Star found that the markets are running without proper fire fighting equipment. They do not even have sufficient fire extinguishers.
The markets include Dhaka Trade Centre, Sundarban Square, Bangabandhu Square Patal Sarak Market, Gulistan Shopping Complex, Bangabazar Hawkers Market, Phulbaria Super Market 1 and 2, Gulistan Hawkers Market, Mahanagar Hawkers Market, Adarsha Hawkers Market, Mohammadpur Krishi Market and Gulshan DNCC Kitchen market.
Visiting Gulistan Shopping Complex, a market of Bangladesh Freedom Fighters' Welfare Association, yesterday, no fire equipment was found in the nine-storey building.
There were warehouses and a blanket factory in its basement, which was designated for parking.
Mohammad Abul Hasan, finance secretary of the market, said there are 1,075 shops and offices in the building. He said the welfare association or developer did not take any step to ensure fire equipment, which has put the entire market at severe risk.
When asked why they did not take any initiative to set up fire extinguishers, he said, “We are going to purchase 100 fire extinguishers soon.”
Abdul Kaiyum Khan, manager of Bangladesh Freedom Fighters' Welfare Association, acknowledged that the market is under serious fire risk.
He said a trader has set up the warehouses and blanket factory in the basement, putting the building under huge fire risk as there is a power substation there.
A probe committee of the association has already been formed and they will take steps in this regard as well and fire safety soon, Khan added.
Contacted, DNCC Mayor Atiqul Islam said most city markets do not have fire fighting equipment. He said they will start inspecting DNCC markets to check condition of the buildings, its fire and electrical safety and will take necessary steps.
About markets and malls, he said, “It's the duty of all -- including the government agencies and market owners -- to take necessary measures and ensure safety.”
Atiqul's DSCC counterpart, Mayor Sayeed Khokon, said they had taken steps after the 2017 fire incident in Gulshan DCC market. The markets in DSCC areas at that time also took fire safety measures.
“Now, we will conduct a survey to know the state of fire safety at the markets and take necessary action based on it,” he said.