Relocation of Chemical Factories

Who will bell the cat?

Md Esaraf Hossain

23 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Despite the deadly fire incident on Wednesday night in Old Dhaka that left at least 67 people dead, many chemical traders from Nimtali to Chawkbazar continue their business.

Though the general folks have a long demand that the chemical businesses be relocated, the demand fall on deaf ears.

Shortly after any devastating fire, investigation committee is formed, and in most cases, the investigation report is not made public, and virtually, no action is taken against those responsible. 

After every fatal incident, the authorities concerned including fire service, police administration, RAJUK, environment directorate, and even the licensing authorities usually engage in blame game with each other to disown their responsibilities.

Like the Chawkbazar fire, several other devastating fire incidents took place including Nimtali and Agamasi Lane.

About eight and a half years after the Nimtoli fire incident, which killed at least 123 people, the situation in the areas still remains the same.

Though the Nimtoli fire sparked a huge public outcry and demand for relocation of chemical warehouses and stores from the area, the authorities concerned are yet to take any positive move in this regard.

Even many such warehouses and factories have been established in the last eight years.

The factories are manufacturing slipper, sandal and different other goods using chemical items. The business houses do not have even basic fire-fighting system to tackle any emergency situation.

Thousands of people in Dhaka are still living with the risk of fire incidents as these traders are storing such dangerous flammable chemicals in many residential and commercial buildings there.

The capital’s Armanitola, Shahid Nagar, Islambagh, Chawkbazar, Nawab Katra, Bangshal, Sat Rowza, Siddique Bazar, Babubazar, Agamasi Lane and Mitford areas are some of the places where many warehouses and factories are dealing with flammable chemicals.

Chemicals including glycerine, sodium anhydrous, sodium thiosulfate, hydrogen peroxide, methyl, ethyl ketone, thinner and isopropyl are found stored in those factories and warehouses.

The chemicals may cause devastating fire if they come in contact with the little fire or heat nearby.

While visiting the areas, this correspondent found on Thursday that the chemical drums were kept open on the lane posing serious threat of fire incident.

Several employees engaged by the business establishments were also seen dispatching some drums stuffed with the chemicals to other destinations.

They also removed the caution signs on the chemical drums to escape the notice of monitoring agencies.

Flammable chemicals are stored on the ground floor of many residential buildings and all stores and shops do not have basic fire-fighting equipment like fire-extinguisher.

According to the environmentalist groups and fire service sources, there are over 1,000 chemical factories and warehouses in Dhaka city. Of them, 850 factories and warehouses are running illegally.

Chemical warehouses are the sources of most fire incidents in old Dhaka, according to the Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSDC).

Mithu, owner of a plastic factory of Islambagh, said: “All factories are being developed here because of the availability of raw materials. If the government provides us with necessary facilities, we will definitely relocate.”

Major AKM Shakil Newaz, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence, recently said: “If the city corporation wants help from us, we are ready to give them necessary support.”

The old town is chocked with narrow and inaccessible roads lacking natural water reservoirs for extinguishing fire. Therefore, relocation is a must for those warehouses and factories, the officer added.

In April 2011, the government decided to shift all chemical warehouses from residential areas to industrial zones in Keraniganj, on the outskirts of the capital, and as part of that scheme, it selected 20 acres of land in Keraniganj, but to no avail yet.

In March 2017, Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon conducted a mobile court drive after March 1, the deadline for relocation of the chemical warehouses from old Dhaka, but this move also failed to bring desired effect.