Haphazard work by gas, power and water authorities create a high risk of devastating fire incidents
Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence is set to recommend to the government the preparation of a coordinated plan for all utility service providers and an effective surveillance system so that they can work in a more organized manner.
The fire fighting service thinks that haphazard work by such service providers as gas, power and water distribution authorities, at the supply level, create a high risk of devastating fire incidents.
In the past, many such incidents took place as their work was not supervised properly, supply lines were not maintained or repaired in time and illegal connections were not disconnected.
The unplanned gas lines often leak and illegal gas connections have less safety. Besides, illegally connected and unplanned electric lines at households and factories are also responsible for fire breakouts.
The Fire Service will include a set of recommendations in the probe report on the explosion at the Baitus Salat Jame Mosque in Narayanganj, to be submitted to the Home Ministry on Thursday.
The report is being prepared by a Fire Service committee led by Director (Ops) Lt Col Zillur Rahman.
The Fire Service has recommended a setting up of committees at all city corporation, municipality, district and upazila levels led by mayors, DCs and UNOs who will oversee the utility service providers' works.
“They will coordinate with the service providers to see if the gas, electricity and water supply lines are properly maintained and repaired. They will also oversee the disconnection of illegal connections regularly,” an official involved with the probe body told this newspaper.
The Fire Service also recommends conducting regular mobile courts against illegal connection holders.
“The purpose of recommending regular mobile court operations is not to punish offenders. Basically, fines imposed by the court will have a psychological pressure on offenders. It will work like a watchdog,” the high official said.
The service providers and mobile courts can carry out operations against illegal connections throughout the year, on a regular basis, but on a limited scale for now, as they have a shortage of manpower. “But this practice should start soon and continue,” he added.
The service has also recommended following the Bangladesh National Building Code strictly while constructing mosques and other religious institutions.
Fire at mosque: Many to take blame
The probe committee said no single person or institution could be held responsible for the devastating fire of September 4 that claimed 31 devotees’ lives.
The Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd, the local power authority and the mosque authorities all played a role in the Narayanganj mosque explosion.
The gas line which developed the leaks had been abandoned for years. That line was shut down just beside the mosque. It was three feet under the surface. However, Titas was supposed to repair and maintain the line, which they did not.
“The leaks developed on the active part of the gas line and accumulated under the floor of the mosque. The floor titles were old and developed cracks that let the gas enter the mosque,” said the official.
The Fire Service also found that the mosque had two electricity lines and one of them was illegal. Apart from the mosque managing committee, the local power supply authority should be made responsible for the tragedy.
“The authorities concerned should find out if the electric wiring system at the mosque was capable enough to run six air-conditioners and many fans and lights, as the gas ignited when the muezzin of the mosque tried to operate a manual changeover/electric switch [connected with the illegal electric line],” he said.
The probe team also thinks that if the mosque authorities’ claim that Titas had demanded a bribe to fix leaks on the gas line was true, they should have informed the local administration for remedy. “They could have acted promptly as gas leakage has a high risk of fire. This can’t be left unattended for long,” the official said.
Besides, the tiles at the mosques had cracks and the floor was made with substandard materials that let the gas in. “When the devotees started smelling the gas they could have kept the doors and windows open while praying. That would have been a saviour,” he said.
An independent probe committee formed by the Electric Safety Security Association of Bangladesh (ESSAB), in another probe report, found that the gas was mostly natural gas (94% methane) with hydrocarbons accounting for the remainder.
The leak occurred at a low-point drainage pipe on the recirculation line with hydrogen-rich gas in the reactor part of the plant, on the line into furnace H-1202. The air-conditioned mosque room had no ventilation system in place.
History of the mosque
According to local residents, the mosque was shifted to West Tolla from the Natun Court area around 1991-92. It was initially a tin-shed structure, after a pond was filled with sand on public property.
In 1995-96, the mosque was rebuilt as a concrete building and was not approved by the local municipality or Rajuk, as the building was on public property.
The mosque was expanded and turned into a three-storey building in 2001-02. During the expansion, some private and disputed land where gas lines had been put in were absorbed by the mosque.
According to documents from the Titas Gas Fatullah zonal office, the gas line was installed in 1995-96 and the area was mapped as public land.
Lt Col Zillur Rahman, head of the Fire Service committee and director (operations and maintenance), said the committee would submit its probe report to the Home Ministry on Thursday. The ministry will forward it to related departments for further processing.