DSCC drive to remove the warehouses seems to have failed again
It has been a month and a half since the deadly Chawkbazar fire in Old Dhaka, yet there is little progress in the removal of the chemical warehouses from the residential area.
After the horrific incident, Dhaka South Mayor Sayeed Khokon vowed to remove all the chemical warehouses from the area within a month.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, too, directed the authorities concerned to immediately relocate the warehouses.
Officials at the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) claimed that the majority of the chemical warehouses in the area had already been shut down.
Yet, traders are still operating their businesses in the residential area, in broad daylight – ignoring all the warnings, this reporter witnessed during a recent visit.
The devastating fire in Chawkbazar’s neighbourhood ravaged several buildings that housed chemical and plastic warehouses on February 20, killing 71 people and injuring more than 100.
Following the incident, the DSCC conducted a drive in Old Dhaka to identify and remove all the warehouses storing risky and inflammable products.
This drive has hardly made a dent in the business.
The Dhaka Tribune, during the visit earlier this week, saw many chemical traders running their business in residential buildings – some in even car parks – in Islambagh, Chawkbazar, Armanitola, Lalbagh, Sadarghat and other areas of Old Dhaka.
Traders were also seen using rickshaw vans to transport chemicals.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Alauddin, a resident of the Islampur area, said traders are still storing huge amounts of chemical compounds in residential buildings – at high risk of potential incidents.
Many traders in Old Dhaka have inherited their business. Foyez Miah, a trader based in Islampur, is one of them.
“I have learnt only one business: chemicals. If the government shuts down our business [in Old Dhaka] in the name of relocation, they need to give us a proper place to run our business, or else we will die of starvation.”
Foyez also admitted that he had no licence to run such a dangerous business; he runs his warehouse illegally.
Old Dhaka has a history of fires fuelled by chemicals stored in warehouses.
The worst fire incident in the area happened in 2010, when a devastating fire – which also spread rapidly due to chemical warehouses – killed 123 people in Nimtoli.
DSCC claim does not match reality
When asked about the chemical warehouses still in business in Old Dhaka, DSCC CEO Mustafizur Rahman claimed around 80% warehouses had been removed from the area, refuting what this reporter had seen.
He said as long as the traders are not dealing with the 32 listed highly inflammable chemicals, they can carry on with their business, as it is not barred by the law.
“During our drive, we did not find the 32 high-risk chemicals in the Old Dhaka warehouses,” the DSCC CEO further said.
However, he could not confirm which law allows the storing of chemical compounds in residential establishments.
His statement contradicts with the finding of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), that say these warehouses store 200 different chemicals that are highly flammable.
After the prime minister instructed the removal of all chemical warehouses from Old Dhaka, DSCC Mayor Khokon formed task forces to cut off all utility services to the warehouses. That plan has not been fully implemented yet.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune on condition of anonymity, a DSCC ward councillor in Old Dhaka said they had identified 15 wards as highly risky due to the chemical warehouses, and the warehouses have yet to be relocated from these wards.
According to a survey by Bapa in 2017, there are 15,000 chemical warehouses housed in residential buildings in Old Dhaka, only 2,500 of which have valid licences to run the business.