Churihatta Tragedy

5 years on, Old Dhaka still a time bomb ticking away

Golam Rabbani

Published: February 21, 2024, 05:42 PM

5 years on, Old Dhaka still a time bomb ticking away

Collected Photo. File

From Nimtoli to Churihatta Tragedy, the tally of deceased raised in each old-town tragic incident but effective measures have not been taken yet, as claimed by the family members of the victims.

Even after five years of the country’s most devastating fire at Wahed Mansion in the Churihatta area of Old Dhaka’s Chawkbazar that claimed 71 lives, not a single chemical warehouse was moved. Rather, the number of unregistered go-downs has been increased due to non-issuance of registration.

In reality, chemical, perfume and plastic business was still running on the ground floor of most of the residential buildings in Old Dhaka. Wahed Mansion has been renovated and rented out to various banks and institutions.

Apart from that, according to Bangladesh Environment Conservation Rules 1997, no industrial unit using hazardous chemicals can operate in and around residential areas.

But due to the weak monitoring of the concerned agencies, the related businesses were running there.

Since 2018, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) stopped issuing trade licenses to chemical businesses in Old Dhaka.

The Department of Explosives was not allowing any chemical factories or warehouses in this area.

Despite being more than 20,000 illegal chemical storage facility in operation, the DSCC had a count of 1,924 illegal warehouse. But in reality, the number was much higher.

According to Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), there were around 25,000 temporary chemical shops, factories and warehouses under the eight police station jurisdiction areas.

The police stations are Lalbagh, Chawkbazar, Hazaribagh, Kamrangirchar, Bangshal, Kotwali, Shyampur and Kadmatoli.

On the other hand, the actual numbers could not be determined officially as the new license issuance was stopped.

Big projects still under-construction

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCCI), an institution under the Ministry of Industry, completed the construction of 54 warehouses in Shyampur, Dhaka, under the Prime Minister‍‍`s priority ‍‍`Construction of warehouses for chemical storage on temporary basis’ project in June 2023.

Senior General Manager of BCCI, Zakir Hossain said that so far two companies submitted application for allocation in the government project implemented at a cost of more than Tk62 crore from government funds. But none were transferred.

According to the revised project, the construction of chemical village at Sirajdikhan in Munshiganj was supposed to be completed in June 2022.

As it did not end then, the period was extended till June 2024. There is doubt whether the project would be completed within the period.

Director of BSCIC Chemical Industrial Park Project, Muhammad Hafizur Rahman said that the progress of the physical work of the project is 61 percent as land acquisition was completed during the construction of boundary wall and soil filling.

As many as Tk1,454.80 crores will be spent to implement the project on 310 acres of land.

Industry Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun said that the chemical warehouses would be moved to Shyampur very soon.

He also hopped to move the chemical warehouse in Sirajdikhan, within the next year.

Midford Hospital area’s chemical businessman Raju Ahmed said, "We will transfer our business for the benefit of all. If the industry is shifted to Shyampur once, then again to Munshiganj, the entire chemical sector will suffer.”

He thought it was better to build a chemical warehouse for everyone in Munshiganj without spending extra on temporary warehouse.

BSCIC can’t avoid responsibility

Chairman of the standing committee on chemical and perfumery of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Belayet Hossain said, “We have already removed highly flammable chemicals. Also, traders will not be interested in frequent transfers.

He also complained, “BSCIC could not handover us the chemical project area even in 10 years. They cannot avoid the responsibility.”

No trial, no compensation

Even after five years of the massive fire, the victims of Churihatta have not received justice and compensation yet.

The fire incident was happened on February 20. A day after the fire in 2019, the son of one of the victims filed a lawsuit.

After the investigation, the police filed a charge sheet on February 15, 2022, against the two owners of Wahed Mansion, Mohammad Hasan Sultan, Mohammad Hossain Sultan alias Sohail, and eight others.

The other accused are chemical warehouse owners Imtiaz Ahmed, Mozammel Iqbal, Mozaffar Uddin, Mohammad Jawad Atiq, Mohammad Nabil and Md Kashif.

Eighth Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge Court’ Assistant Public Prosecutor (APP) Md Mazharul Haque said that almost a year after the placement of charge sheet, the court framed charges against eight people on January 31 this year. All were in bail.

There were 167 witnesses in the case. No one has been questioned yet.

He said that the court has fixed March 14 as a date of prosecuting the witnesses.

Link copied!