Speakers at a public hearing yesterday said planned relocation of chemical substances from Old Dhaka is now a call of time, to avert tragedies like the Chawkbazar fire.
For this, they stressed on immediate relocation of 35 types of highly flammable chemicals identified by the authorities, and gradual relocation of other substances.
Six rights and development organisations, along with Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB) in association with Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, arranged the hearing on “Fire risk-free and safe Old Dhaka” at the capital's Cirdap.
The six organisations are: Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), Association for Land Reform and Development, Ain O Salish Kendra, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Brac, and Nijera Kori.
At the hearing, family members of some Chawkbazar fire victims urged the government for due compensation and rehabilitation, saying that the fire claimed lives of their loved ones who were also sole earners of the families.
Chairing the hearing, noted rights activist Sultana Kamal said incidents like Chawkbazar fire was linked to overall governance.
“In a country where good governance is absent, people can't own up to their responsibilities… they don't,” she said.
Ensuring good governance should be a priority so that citizens feel they have duties to the country or city, she said, adding that politicians were responsible for encouraging such mindset among citizens.
Speaking at the programme, Prof Syeda Sultana Razia, head of the department of Chemical Engineering at Buet, said immediate mapping of chemical substances stored in different warehouses in old town was the first step for relocation.
Referring to reported data, she said chemicals worth about Tk 17,000 crore had been imported into the country in 2017-18 fiscal year alone.
However, when Buet students went for field-level survey and tried to do research, they faced challenges like lack of “solid information” to this end, she said.
“Even those in Hatkhola who supply 'academic chemicals' to Buet cannot say where all these chemicals end up,” she said, adding that they had been facing “major information gap” for several years.
Maj AKM Shakil Newaz, director (operation and maintenance) of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, said proper licensing by Dhaka South City Corporation for the traders and no objection certificate from fire service authorities would help ensure fire safety in the area.
He said chemical business should not continue operation in residential areas.
Architect Farida Nilufar, IAB's urbanisation and environment secretary, said the government's detailed area plan should be implemented properly in Old Dhaka and while constructing buildings, owners should follow proper building codes to reduce risk.
Following a writ on Nimtoli fire filed by yesterday's public hearing organisers, the High Court on June 10, 2010 directed the government to submit all related probe reports over the incident to the court within three months, said Bela Executive Director Syeda Rizwana Hasan.
However, none of the concerned government institutions have submitted any report till date, she said, while presenting a paper on the topic.
“The Chawkbazar fire proved that no lesson has been learned from the past incident,” she added.
Speaking as chief guest, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon said they were working towards preventing fire incidents in Old Dhaka. He sought cooperation from all to this end.
If required, DSCC could provide jobs to family members of Chawkbazar fire victims as part of rehabilitation, he said.
Arif Hossain, general secretary of Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchants Association, said DSCC and other authorities should give importance to both traders' interests and locals' safety while relocating chemicals.