The mobile court team reportedly tried to convince local businessmen, but failed
Businessmen and workers in Old Dhaka on Saturday chased out a Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) task force when it tried to crack down on chemical warehouses and factories.
A total of four DSCC teams began their pre-scheduled drive in Old Dhaka around 11am on Saturday, but local businessmen and workers began protesting against the mobile court drive after one team severed the utility line of a house on Joynag Road, when they found a plastic factory there.
The team, led by Chief Health Officer of Dhaka South City Corporation (DNCC) Brig Gen Sharif Ahmed Khan, tried to convince local businessmen but failed, and returned to office within one-and-a-half hour of starting the drive.
Later in the afternoon, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon spoke to the press, saying a group of unscrupulous traders were behind the incident. He then went to the spot around 2:45pm to try and resume the drive.
DSCC Public Relations Officer Uttam Kumer Roy told the Dhaka Tribune that the task force teams disconnected the utility connections in 13 holdings in Old Dhaka on Saturday.
Among them, utilities were disconnected in nine holdings in Shahidnagar area as they had warehouses of plastic products, while in Joynag road, connections were severed in four holdings.
On the other hand, the team at Joynag road spared two holdings because the business owners agreed to immediately move the materials out from their warehouses.
DSCC sources said there are 15 risky wards where the dangerous chemical warehouses and factories are located, and drives will be carried out in these areas to make them safe for habitation.
Why the protest?
Local businessmen, along with their factory workers, who protested against the drive, claimed it was a gas cylinder that caused the Chawkbazar fire, not chemical warehouses.
Abdur Rahim, a local, claimed: “A gas cylinder was responsible for the Chawkbazar fire, but the authoritiesare taking action against factories that do not contain dangerous chemicals.”
The authorities began removing chemical warehouses are being removed from Old Dhaka after a devastating fire in Chawkbazar left 71 people dead, and scores of others injured, on February 20.
One local businessman told the Dhaka Tribune that if the authorities take action against their factories then many workers and their families will suffer.
After the Chawkbazar fire, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon took the decision to spearhead a month-long drive to remove all chemical warehouses from Old Dhaka.
The decision was taken at a stakeholders' meeting on February 25 with the mayor in the chair.
DSCC Chief Health Officer Brigadier General Sharif Ahmed, who led the team at Joynag Road, said they continued their drive after the mayor accompanied the team following the protest.
“We have conducted drives in six holdings, among them two of them immediately transferred materials from the warehouse, and the connections of four were disconnected,” he said.
DSCC Chief Waste Management Officer Air Commodore Md Zahid Hossain said his team conducted the drive at Shahidnagar area under Lalbagh.
“We have checked many of the buildings, and found warehouse cum factories at eight of the holdings. Utility services were disconnected at the buildings,” he said.
“We cannot put people's lives at risk because of some businessmen, and the drive will continue for public safety,” he added.
How will the task force work?
The DSCC on February 25 formed a two-tier task force to conduct a a month-long drive for removal of all chemical warehouses from 15 wards in Old Dhaka from February 28.
First tier of the task force comprises of utility services and law enforcement agencies to plan the drive. On the other hand, the second tier comprises of local representatives, magistrates, officials from various departments and organizations which has been divided in groups to implement the plan.
As decided in the meeting, the authorities concerned will immediately cut the utility services — water, gas and electricity — of buildings with warehouses of chemicals and flammable materials and hazardous chemicals.
The city corporation started a crackdown on Old Dhaka chemical warehouses after a devastating fire killed 71 people and injured scores of others at Nanda Kumar Lane in Chawkbazar’s Churihatta area on February 20.
In June 2010, another deadly fire in similar warehouses at Nimtoli left 124 people dead.