Relocation of the hazardous chemical warehouses from old Dhaka is still a far cry since the government failed to accomplish any of the goals set after the devastating fires in the past decade.
The delay in moving the warehouses out of the congested neighbourhoods has kept the fear of another tragedy alive in the collective mind of residents.
Soon after stored chemicals caught fire in Nimtoli, claiming 126 lives in June 2010, the government took up four projects to relocate chemical, plastic, printing, and electronics industries from old Dhaka.
But none of the projects has been completed in 11 years, mostly because of bureaucratic tangles and complications related to land acquisition.
Not even the fire in Churihatta, Chawkbazar, in February 2019 that killed 80 people, could spur the authorities to act decisively.
Yesterday's fire at a building with a chemical warehouse in Armanitola that left four dead and 25 others injured is a reminder that Old Dhaka neighbourhoods are never too far from a tragedy.
The Dhaka South City Corporation stopped issuing new licences or renewing the old ones for chemical businesses in Old Dhaka. But had very little effect on reality.
The chemical traders say they can't leave the area unless the government relocates them, as was agreed in a MoU signed in 2017.
Arif Hossain, general secretary of Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchants' Association, said, "We will leave the area only after we get the plot in the Chemical Polli. It is not possible otherwise."
There are almost 2,000 shops selling chemicals in Old Dhaka, he said.
The construction of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation Chemical Industrial Park in Sirajdikhan, Munshiganj, made only 30 percent progress.
The project, drafted in 2011 and revised later, was supposed to be on 50 acres of land and implemented at a cost of Tk 201.80 crore. It and was scheduled to be complete by June 2022, according to documents.
After a recent visit to the site, Pradip Ranjan Chakrabarti, secretary of Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division, wrote that the work for raising the land at the site has not even begun.
His report said the project was supposed to acquire 308.33 acres of land. But the officials failed to answer why that had not been done.
The secretary said the project officials rented an office at a shopping mall for Tk 78,000 a month, but failed to justify why that temporary office was needed, the report said.
Contacted, Project Director Saiful Islam said the work could not progress due to the pandemic.
"Around 30 to 32 percent of the work has so far been done. We will be able to issue orders for land development by next week. If we can finish raising the land by December, we will be behind the schedule," he added.
The progress of BSCIC Plastic Industry Estate Project has also been very slow due to land acquisition delays.
Some 300 plastic factories could be relocated from the old town under the project on 50 acres of land.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project in July 2015 and the work was scheduled to be complete by June last year. The Ecnec then approved an extension of the project.
Project Director Md Nizam Uddin said he did not get the fund, about Tk 218 crore, needed to acquire the land.
Nizam said they are hoping to get the land by this fiscal and start land filling.
The BSCIC Printing Industries Estate Project will be implemented on 415 acres of land, said its Director Nizam Uddin.
The Ecnec approved the Tk 138.70 core project in January 2016 and now the cost will rise again, he said.
There will be over 750 small and big industrial units at the park, he said.
Earth filling has been complete at the site of Light Engineering Electric Goods project on 50 acres of land.
Construction of boundary walls is going on, said an official of BSCIC.
The project in Tongibari, Munshiganj, is expected to complete by June 2022 at a cost of Tk 309 crore.
The government in August 2019 approved the Chemical Warehouse Project in Tongi to relocate 55 warehouses on six acres of land.
The seven one-storey warehouses that were to be built in the first phase have not been done yet.
Physical work of Godown for Temporary Facilitating Chemicals Storage Project in the capital's Shyampur is progressing slowly.
Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation is implementing the Tk 77.89 crore project on 6.17 acres of land. The project is scheduled to be complete by June this year.
"We're trying to do it by June, but if we fail, we will need a time extension," said Project Director Liakat Ali, adding that the pandemic was to blame for the delay.