The chemical warehouses in old Dhaka still present a threat to the residents as relocation is taking time due primarily to procrastination and subsequently battered by coronavirus.
As a result not enough tangible signs of progress are insight in regard to the construction of two such repositories – one in Shyampur and another in Gazipur near the capital.The construction of infrastructure began in two locations only in January and March and later overshadowed by the pandemic, positing that old Dhaka is not going to be free from chemical risk anytime soon.
Following the horrific fire at Churihatta in Chawkbazar, the government took initiative to temporarily relocate the chemical factories and godowns to two separate places – Ujala Match Factory in Shyampur's Kadamtali and Kathaldia of Gazipur's Tongi.
At that time, the government officials said the construction work will be completed by June 2020, but given the current circumstances, its future hangs in the balance.
On February 20 last year, 71 people were killed and dozens of others were injured in the fire that broke out in Wahed Mansion's second floor used for storing chemicals at Churihatta in old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar area.
Then the issue of relocation of chemical warehouses and factories from old Dhaka came up for discussion.
Later in a meeting on February 26 last year, the Ministry of Industry announced the removal of the chemical warehouses as soon as possible.The formation of the chemical village was planned 10 years ago after a total of 124 people were killed and scores injured in a fire that originated at a chemical store at Nabab Katra in Nimtoli on June 3, 2010.
However, the Ministry of Industries took the initiative to set up a chemical village to shift the chemical business from old Dhaka to Sirajdikhan upazila of Munshiganj district after 124 people died in a fire at Nabab Katra in Nimtoli on June 3, 2010 before the Churihatta fire.
It took nine years to finalise the project, but is yet to be implemented. Now there are apprehensions as to whether the temporary chemical warehouses at Shyampur and Tongi will be completed on time.
Moving the chemical factories and warehouses out of Dhaka was one of the 17 recommendations by the Home Ministry committee formed after the Nimtoli tragedy.
Thousands of people in old Dhaka are still at risk of fire accidents as extremely hazardous stocks of flammable chemicals are stacked without any safety measures at all.
Beside chemical warehouses, warehouses of plastic raw materials were also set up in many areas of old town though they have no fire safety measures.
Residents of old Dhaka complained that none of the 17 tasks recommended by the government's investigation committee after the Nimtali fire had been implemented.
The government is delaying the removal of chemical warehouses. Now who will take responsibility for another major accident in a chemical fire? They posed the question.
Chemical warehouses and stores, mostly located in residential complexes, are seen aplenty in Armanitola, Shahid Nagar, Islambagh, Chawkbazar, Nabab Katra, Bangshal, Sat Rowza, Siddique Bazar, Babubazar, Agamasi Lane and Mitford areas of old Dhaka.
A large number of rubber, plastic and sandal-making factories have been established in Islambag area of Old Dhaka. While many shops are selling raw materials including chemicals, plastics and paint there, they also have warehouses for storing them.
Apart from this, there are many plastic warehouses, plastic recycling factories, imitation jewellery, lathe machines and others factories. Most of these are lacking in fire-fighting systems and fire licenses.
Residents in the areas said they are living at high risk as chemical warehouses are located in there. But chemical traders argue that they are not getting any help from the government for relocating the chemical factories.
On April 20 in 2019, Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) at a meeting approved a Tk79.42-crore project to construct 54 chemical warehouses at Kadamtoli in Shyampur for temporarily relocating chemical godowns from old Dhaka.
On January 9 this year, the construction of warehouses for temporarily storing chemical substances has begun in Shyampur area.
Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun unveiled the foundation plaque of the project titled ‘Construction of Warehouse on Temporary Basis for Preserving Chemical’ on 6.7 acres of land at Ujala Match Factory at Shyampur in Dhaka.
“As a permanent solution, BSCIC Chemical Shilpa Nagari is being built in Munshiganj to shift the businesses dealing with the chemical substance from old Dhaka.”
The minister claimed that the construction work of the temporary godowns will be completed within the next six months, but everything came to a halt.
Sources said initially, the government will build 54 temporary godowns for safe preservation of chemicals.
Apart from building godowns, two office buildings for warehouse officials, one for BCIC, one mosque, underground water tank, power substation, transformers, generator and fire hydrants will be built under the project.
Md Liakat Ali, Project Director of Construction of Warehouse on Temporary Basis for Preserving Chemical, told daily sun, “We have started building 22 chemical warehouses among the 54 chemical warehouses. But due to coronavirus (Covid-19) the work is stopped from March 20.”
He said the completion time of the project may extend due to the coronavirus. “We want to resume the project work as soon as possible” he added.
On June 18 last year, Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved the “Chemical Warehouse Construction” project involving Tk91.74 crore in Tongi, Gazipur.
On March 14 this year, the industries minister unveiled the foundation plaque of the project titled ‘Chemical Warehouse Construction’ at Tongi in Gazipur.
The project is being implemented on the six acres of land of Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation (BSEC).