After an inferno had claimed 124 lives in Old Dhaka's Nimtoli in 2010, the government took up four projects to relocate four types of industries -- chemical, plastic, printing and light electronics -- from this part of the capital.
Around nine years down the line, the implementation of those projects still remains at the preliminary stage mainly due to problems associated with land acquisition and bureaucratic tangles, say officials.
Demands for relocation of such industries have found new vigour after a chemical-fuelled fire killed at least 67 people and injured scores in Chawkbazar of Old Dhaka on Wednesday night.
Experts and activists say the latest disaster could have been avoided had the authorities taken prompt action to relocate those industries following recommendations of a taskforce formed after the Nimtoli fire.
Take the example of BSCIC Plastic Industry Estate project in Sirajdikhan upazila of Munshiganj. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the project in July 2015 and the work is scheduled to be completed by June 2019.
But the Tk 133 core project witnessed only 0.20 percent progress till October last year, officials said.
The government took the move to relocate plastic industries from Old Dhaka in 2004 considering fire risk and environmental hazards for the densely populated area.
In the last one year, nine incidents of fire in plastic factories or warehouses in Old Dhaka were reported, said Ratan Kumar Debnath, station officer of Lalbagh Fire Service Station.
A large number of houses in the old town are used as plastic factories and warehouses. Fire intensifies when it comes into contact with plastic, causing higher damages and casualties, he told The Daily Star yesterday.
At present, there are about 1,200 plastic factories in the old town, most of which are unauthorised, according to industry insiders.
Abdul Mannan, joint secretary of Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), told this newspaper yesterday that they could not start the work due to complications related to land acquisition.
Land owners of the project site in Sirajdikhan vehemently opposed the government plan. Even the project director was assaulted by them when he went there to conduct a survey.
However, after a long negotiation involving the deputy commissioner's office in Munshiganj, leaders of the association of plastic industries and project officials, the owners on February 18 agreed to hand over their land, he said.
“All these problems have been resolved and we will float tender and select contractors within the shortest possible time,” he said, adding, “We hope to start relocation of the plastic industries within a year.”
The Ecnec passed BSCIC Printing Industries Estate project costing Tk 138.70 core in January 2016 and it was scheduled to be completed within December 2018.
But the project to be implemented beside the Plastic Industry Estate in Sirajdikhan witnessed only 15 percent progress till October last year, officials said.
“Implementation of the project has been delayed for the same reason -- acquisition of land. The problem, however, has been resolved,” Abdul Mannan said.
Another BSCIC official said apart from the printing industries in Old Dhaka, those in other parts of the capital will also be relocated.
After the Chawkbazar fire, the most discussed issue in the country is the relocation of chemical industries and warehouses from Old Dhaka as there are some 4,000 such establishments in the area, making the total area vulnerable to fire.
But the implementation of the project has not started yet though the Ecnec approved it in October last year.
The Tk 201.80 crore project to be implemented on 50 acres of land in Keraniganj upazila is scheduled to be completed in June 2021, officials said.
A big chuck of the time -- from June 2011 to 2017 -- was spent on forming committees, holding meetings, selecting the project site, fixing its size and reaching an agreement with the industry owners, according to the project documents.
In 2017, the authorities selected Dakkhin Brahmankritto of Keraniganj from three possible sites and extended the project area from 20 to 50 acres.
Shafiqul Islam Milon, joint secretary of Bangladesh Chemical and Perfumery Merchant Association, on Saturday said they were ready to relocate their businesses but the government could not give them land yet.
Project Director Saiful Alam told this newspaper on Friday, “We will now go for land acquisition and to do so, we will give the money to the deputy commissioner's office in Dhaka soon. Then we will start the construction and hope the work will be completed before the scheduled time.”
He added that they would not face any hurdle in acquiring land as it has already been settled.
As per the plan, there will be 936 industrial plots there.
Asked where the other chemical industries and warehouses will go, Saiful yesterday said, “After the Chawkbazar incident, the government high-ups asked us to find out two more places to relocate those.”
The project to shift light electronics industries in Old Dhaka witnessed relatively good progress.
Till October last year, the Tk 213 crore project to be implemented on 50 acres of land in Tongibari upazila of Munshiganj saw 26 percent progress, officials said.
The land acquisition for the project was completed last year and the tender will be floated soon, a BSCIC official said.