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Speakers: Chawkbazar fire could have been prevented by Nimtoli recommendations

  • Published at 11:25 pm March 16th, 2019
Chawkbazar Tragedy
Speakers at a discussion titled 'Chawkbazar Tragedy and follow-up,' organized by Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) at the National Press Club on Saturday Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The comment was made during a discussion

The fire in Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar could have been prevented if 17 point recommendations made after the Nimtola fire in 2010 had been implemented, speakers at a program have said.

The comment was made during a discussion titled “Chawkbazar Tragedy and follow-up,” organized by Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) at the National Press Club on Saturday.

Centre for Development Communications (CDC) Executive Director Mohammad Jahangir said: “A parliamentary committee is one of the most effective tools to ensure accountability. However, the committee did nothing to ensure the implementation of the 17 point recommendations made after the Nimtoli incident.

“Furthermore, the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) authorities and Rajuk did nothing to improve the situation,” he added, while presenting statistics on how hundreds of chemical warehouses were operating in Old Dhaka without authorization.

Describing deaths by fire as deaths due to negligence, architect Iqbal Habib stressed that the Chawkbazar fire was not the only fire incident after Nimtoli.

“Every year, at least 3-5 people are killed in fires, but no one has been punished for negligence that led to the deaths. This resulted in the situation that triggered the Chawkbazar fire,” he said.

“A culture where controversy over fire incidents can be avoided by giving compensation to victims and their families needs to be stopped. We need long term initiatives,” he added, suggesting that compensation be raised to an amount that prevents fires rather than complaints about them.

“Illegal trade in an area that is under government surveillance should be unimaginable, but the storage of illegal perfumes and chemicals is continuing,” Iqbal Habib said. “If the DSCC and the Department of Explosives do not take action against these traders, then they are useless.”

The architect’s comments were echoed by Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar, who said incidents like the Chawkbazar fire would never have happened if parliamentary committees could force parliament to implement their recommendations.

Journalist and researcher Syed Abul Maksud said the departments and authorities concerned did not perform their duties properly in the lead up to the Chawkbazar fire, and criticized the government for taking short term measures that drew the attention of the media instead of long term initiatives, 

He demanded the formation of a temporary cell with members from all authorities concerned to take ant-fire measures while considering historical and geographical factors.

Role of civil society in question 

Speakers at the program also criticized civil society for their role after the Chawkbazar fire, saying they should have come up with a specific plan to pressure the government into implementing the Nimtoli fire recommendations.

Mohammad Jahangir said a number of civil society platforms were strengthening the hand of the government by acting passively instead of providing constructive criticism.

“The situation of the country is discouraging members of civil society from criticizing the government,” he added.

Meanwhile, Iqbal Habib said a shortage of manpower for research and lack of financial stability was preventing civil society from being effective.

Robaet Ferdous, associate professor of journalism at Dhaka University, said civil society’s main objective should be to make the government aware of faulty initiatives.

“Unfortunately, the civil society of our country has failed to maintain an impartial image. Civil society platforms seem to be influenced by the government or other political parties,” he added.

Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar also said the main reason behind the Chawkbazar fire was that civil society could not hold the government accountable to the people.