A disaster waiting to happen
It is extremely worrying that chemical warehouses continue to operate in Old Dhaka, which means that we have failed to draw lessons from the Nimtoli fire in 2010 that killed 123 people. According to a survey conducted by the Fire Service and Civil Defence in 2017, a combined total of 360 factories and stores of chemicals were found to operate in the areas. But residents of Old Dhaka say that the number could be close to 1,000. Regardless of the actual number, the fact remains that these establishments pose significant danger to the residents of Old Dhaka.
The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) stopped providing new licences to factories and giving permission for renewal of licences since last year. Similarly, the Department of Explosives has not given permission to any chemical warehouse in Old Dhaka in the last seven to eight years. The law also bars commercial organisations, including factories and chemical warehouses, from being housed in residential buildings. In addition to all this, all chemical factories and warehouses must acquire a licence from the fire service and civil defence department, as prescribed in the Fire Prevention and Control Act, 2003. This daily has reported in the past that a number of chemical warehouses and factories had set up shop in the capital without licence. All this information points to the worrying fact that the implementation of laws relating to chemical factories is basically non-existent.
The DSCC must go beyond sporadic drives and set up a monitoring system that continuously checks the existence of illegal chemical factories operating in the area and take appropriate action against the owners instead of simply imposing a fine. There is an urgent need for coordination among all concerned government ministries and departments. The process of relocation of these factories must also be sped up.