Chemical trade still goes on in Old Dhaka under the patronage of a section of political leaders and corrupt officials of different enforcement agencies, exposing its dwellers to the danger of major fire incidents like the last year's Churihatta blaze, finds a research by Transparency International Bangladesh.
"The Nimtoli tragedy repeated in Churihatta because of lack of good governance," reads the research, carried out following qualitative methods between October 2019 and August 2020.
The TIB yesterday launched the research paper titled "Nimtoli, Churihatta and Afterwards: Governance Challenges in Ensuring Fire Safety in Old Dhaka and Way-out" through a video conference.
Reading out the summary of the research, TIB Deputy Programme Manager (research & policy) Mostafa Kamal said at least 468 fire incidents were reported from Lalbagh, Hazaribagh, Sadarghat and Siddikbazar in 2018, a year before the tragic Churihatta fire incident took place which claimed 80 lives.
The devastating blaze at a chemical warehouse in Nimtoli on June 3, 2010 had left 126 people dead.
Several inquiry committees were formed and recommendations were made for relocating chemical warehouses, but some 15,000 are still operating in the Old Dhaka, said the report.
According to the report, businessmen use political influence and bribes to get licences for chemical warehouses.
The graft watchdog found that some political leaders obtain licences against their names and sell those to businessmen.
"In some cases, with the help of some corrupt officials of the city corporation, the businesspersons drop the word 'chemical' from the shop's name and apply for a new licence," the report said.
The alleged bribe money for issuing licences ranges from Tk 20,000-30,000 at Department of Environment, Tk 150,000-250,000 at Department of Explosives, Tk 3,000- 12,000 at Fire Service and Tk 1,500-18,000 at the city corporation.
The report reveals that imported inflammable chemicals are transported to warehouses in unsafe ways. The law enforcement agencies allegedly allow safe passage of each delivery for a bribe of Tk 300.
According to the report, 10 organisations -- Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Rajuk, Dhaka Wasa, industries ministry, Department of Disaster Management, District Administration of Dhaka, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Department of Explosives, Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, Department of Environment -- and the law enforcement agencies are responsible for preventing fire incidents.
Due to negligence and lack of planning, Dhaka Wasa has not installed any fire hydrants in Old Dhaka, the TIB said, adding that the Rajuk did not ensure enforcement of relevant acts and rules in construction of buildings.
"No legal actions were taken against the unauthorised warehouses, nor they were identified. The authorities do not have any plan to conduct regular supervision," reads the report.
It said the Department of Environment, Rajuk, DSCC, Department of Inspection for Factories and Department of Explosives have failed to deliver their responsibilities.
The TIB suggested that the government should formulate a policy to compensate the victims of any accident. It said the victim families of Nimtoli and Churihatta tragedies must receive proper compensations and steps should be taken to rehabilitate them.
The graft watchdog also asked the government to form a national chemical safety committee, create awareness among the people, stop operation of chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka and relocate those, and take action against the authorities responsible for delayed implementation of orders.
TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the law enforcement agencies, who are supposed to protect law, are involved in violating it.
"Had the law enforcement agencies been cautious, chemical warehouses could not be operated," he added.
Iftekharuzzaman said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is resolute in curbing corruption, but some officers of law enforcement agencies are involved in corruption.
A major reform of law enforcement agencies is needed to check corruption, he observed.