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Dhaka Tribune

Fire-affected traders struggle amidst debts and uncertainty

  • Not received sufficient support to restart businesses
  • Some employees, small traders receive minor financial aid
  • Majority of affected traders grappling with aftermath of fire
Update : 28 Mar 2024, 12:46 AM

Despite receiving some immediate assistance, the future remains bleak for fire-affected traders in various markets, with many burdened by substantial debts and uncertain prospects. 

Most of these traders initially restarted their businesses with loans from banks, associations, and relatives. After losing everything in fire, they now have to bear the burden of debt.

Dhaka Tribune has been speaking to at least 20 affected businessmen from Bangabazar. It became evident that they have not received sufficient support to restart their businesses. 

While some employees and a handful of small traders received minor financial aid, the majority of the affected traders have been left grappling with the aftermath of the fire without assistance.

Voicing their grievances, the affected traders alleged that they have yet to receive any financial support even after a year.

Highlighting their mounting debts, which range from Tk25 to Tk30 lakh, and in some cases even more, the traders said they are struggling to provide for their families.

Recounting the extensive damage caused by the fire, Md Muhin, owner of Dolan Garments, said: “Three of my shops were gutted in the fire, causing me over Tk1 crore in damage. At the time, I didn’t even have money to pay for groceries. If I had received Tk20-50 thousand aid at the time, it would have been a great help.”

On restarting businesses, he said: “As my family depends on me, I had to resume business by any means. I had to bring products on credit from my business connections to start my business.”

He expressed frustration over the lack of substantial assistance. “Right now, I have a debt of Tk25 lakh. My creditors often ask for their money back. I have to repeatedly ask for more time from them.”

He said with debts accumulating and creditors demanding repayment he has been pushed to the brink of desperation, with thoughts of suicide.

Anwar Hossain, owner of Tisha Garments, shared the tale of  his struggles with a debt exceeding Tk30 lakh, unable to find respite amidst the financial burden. 

When asked if he got any assistance, Anwar said: “Not even a dime.”

Similarly, Harunur Rashid, another victim, lamented the loss of his invested capital and the challenges of restarting his business with borrowed funds.

He said: “I sold my farmlands in the village to invest in my business. Now everything is lost. Right now, I have a debt of Tk10 lakh. If my businesses did well, I wouldn’t have to worry.”

He said following the fire, all the traders are seeing a decline in sales. The daily volume of wholesale transactions went down to one-fourth compared to earlier.

Furthermore, the decline in market sales post-fire has exacerbated the financial strain on these traders. 

Md Nurunnabi, owner of NM Silk House, said he lost products worth Tk4.5 crore in the fire. “Once I used to donate in Ramadan. Now I have to beg.”

While some employees received nominal assistance, most owners did not get any assistance.

Sabbir, a former employee, said he received Tk20,000 as financial assistance. “There are others like me who got assistance. But I don’t know about the owners.”

However, another employee said: "My owner has suffered a loss of Tk2 crores. I thought I might not get paid after the fire. But my owner paid my salary.”

Regarding the support of the shop owners, he said that there is no point in giving alms of Tk20-25 thousand to the owner, who had suffered a loss of Tk2 crore. “The shop owner who pays a salary of Tk1 lakh per month to his shop employees, will he stand in line for Tk20,000 as assistance?”

Zahirul Islam Zahir, general secretary of Bangbazar Shop Owners Association, shed light on the inadequate support from authorities. 

“The deputy commissioner gave Tk9 crore as assistance. It was only for the employees, not for the shop owners. The authorities distributed this money in bulk without scrutinizing their identity. So many outsiders received assistance,” he added.

He said that the Tk15 crore given by the prime minister for the compensation of the traders will be distributed within this week. Besides, there is another Tk6.13 crore for compensation in the fund of the association. “We will distribute a total of Tk21.13 crore among the affected 2,961 traders.”

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