Lack of willingness of the government and irresponsibility of traders are the reasons why chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka are still not relocated, resulting in tragedies like the Chawkbazar fire, civil society representatives said yesterday.
To minimise the risk of fire and other disasters in the entire Old Dhaka, they recommended that the government formulate a new design for rearranging the area in a planned manner, keeping heritage sites intact.
They came up with the recommendation at a roundtable organised by Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), a civil society organisation, at Jatiya Press Club in the capital, recalling the Chawkbazar tragedy that claimed 70 lives in February.
“Many people in Old Dhaka construct their infrastructures without following building code, and run business in residential buildings… These are going on through a liaison with government bodies,” said noted media personality Muhammad Jahangir.
The entire Old Dhaka, not just Chawkbazar, is prone to fire and other disasters. Therefore, the government should formulate a new design for this area through consultation with relevant stakeholders -- residents and city planners, he said in a keynote paper.
Jahangir, a national committee member of Shujan, also suggested to evict settlements which were built illegally and did not follow proper plan, and to stop commercial activities in residential areas.
Robaet Ferdous, associate professor of Dhaka University,
said many lives have already been lost but the authorities are yet to take any effective measures. “How cheap these lives are!” he exclaimed.
“We are not against chemicals, but we don't want to lose any lives due to it,” he said.
“The government has no willingness to relocate chemical warehouses [from Old Dhaka] and traders have no moral responsibility. The government doesn't value the lives of its own people and the traders do the same,” Robaet added.
Iqbal Habib, noted architect and green activist, said almost every year people die because of fire that occurs due to negligence. If justice was ensured in those cases, incidents like Chawkbazar fire might not have happened.
Addressing the government, Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said, “We should avoid the politics of providing compensation. Instead, we should practice the politics of responsibility through bringing the culprits under justice.”
At the discussion, Belayet Hossain, a chemical trader in Old Dhaka, claimed that they “tried hard” to relocate their warehouses, but it did not happen due to “bureaucratic complexity”.
Columnist and writer Syed Abul Maksud, among others, spoke at the programme.