It is time to correct the wrong-doing of unplanned construction
As had been expected, there’s a mad scramble for multi-storeyed buildings to install fire-fighting equipment that should have been there to begin with. For starters, we are informed that Mayor Atiqul Islam’s Nagar Bhaban has fallen short, and no doubt there will be many more.
If charity begins at home, Mayor Sayeed Khokon will probably be doing something similar, ie checking out his Nagar Bhaban. Mayor Atiq has taken the positive route of awarding the 10 best- equipped structures, which by itself isn’t a bad start. But Housing and Public Works Minister SM Rezaul Karim wants to go a step further by demolishing rickety buildings in Old Dhaka and rebuilding them anew.
That by itself will be a tall order from the safety side of matters. One must also question whether the ministry has the equipment required for such demolition. The minister has not stated exactly what he will do with the more recently constructed buildings that virtually lean against one another in all parts of Dhaka city.
Modern-day demolition is done using controlled explosions and after necessary safeguards are in place, including those of other buildings in the vicinity. It is doubtful whether such technology is available with either the ministry or the city corporations. The minister himself acknowledged that one swing of the hammer could have repercussions on adjacent buildings.
Nonetheless, the time has come to take a call whether protective measures alone will solve the danger of fires breaking out and our buildings cracking by themselves.
But it is time to correct the wrong-doing of unplanned construction of the past, and of the new involving and listening to urban planners. It may be an uphill task, but unless these are taken to hand in earnest, bigger disasters are just a matter of time.
As an organization, Rajuk has failed to withstand the lures of corruption in approving multi-storeyed construction. Most land development agencies will admit that palm-greasing is a must in getting their plans approved, thereby allowing for deviation from the already approved plans.
When fire brigade officials expressed astonishment at the less-than-adequate staircase facilities to be used at times of fire breakout in FR Tower in Banani, the onus fell on the owners of the building as well as Rajuk. Had the proper inspections taken place, the issue would have emerged much earlier and so many lives might not have been lost.
What happens from here is a matter of guesswork. Demolishing the buildings will take time, much too much than that required, because of the manual nature of the task that seems the only option. And if after inspection the other buildings are as guilty -- as most would incline to agree with -- we’re left with a major decision in terms of relocation of existing offices as well as a time frame of demolition that would clog the Kemal Ataturk Avenue.
Similar issues prevail in the business areas of Gulshan and Motijheel, all of which cannot be addressed at the same go. For now, the issue has to be addressed through appropriate fire extinguishing systems installed until a call can be taken in establishing proper fire escape stairs and such. Multi-national companies with their standard processes are ahead of the rest of the pack and can be advisers to others on the matter.
Looking ahead, Rajuk’s processes must also be reviewed thoroughly, and strict background checks must be put in place to prevent faulty building plans from being approved in the future.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.