The fire at Chawkbazar started at a chemical warehouse on the ground floor of an old building and then raced through three other buildings. Many people were trapped, unable to escape the flames. The fire broke out at night, when most people were sleeping. Suddenly there was a loud bang and the entire area shook violently. There was a huge fire outside the building and there was a thick smoke all over the place. Everybody was shaken to the core as a major disaster was unfolding before their eyes. There was total chaos out there. Fathers carried away children in their arms, fearing that everyone would be killed. There was much screaming and sobbing. Then came a series of explosions. Moments later, the entire building exploded into a fireball, killing 70 helpless people. The dreams of young couples were shattered as the explosion changed their lives forever. Just two weeks earlier families and friends had gathered to celebrate the weddings. A husband did not leave his pregnant wife behind as she was unable to escape from the third floor of the building due of her pregnancy and other complications. The couple along with their unborn child were burnt to death on the 3rd floor of the said building. Hundreds of people rushed to THE morgue to identify their near and dear ones
The Chawkbazar fire tragedy reminded the entire nation about the Nimtoli tragedy of June 2010 where 124 people had died due to a blaze. Similarly, we can recall the Tazreen Garments Fire case that killed 112 workers on Nov 14, 2012.
The continuing operation of the chemical warehouses in Old Dhaka proves that we have failed to learn the lessons from the Nimtoli fire in 2010 and the garments factory fire.
As per the laws in Bangladesh, commercial organizations, including factories and chemical warehouses cannot be located in residential buildings or areas. The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has stopped giving licences to the new factories and also stopped giving permission for the renewal of earlier licences since 2018. Besides, as per the Fire Prevention and Control Act, 2003, all chemical factories and warehouses must obtain a licence also from the fire service and civil defence department. And sadly a number of chemical warehouses and factories are being operated in Dhaka city without having any licence whatsoever. It shows that there is hardly any implementation of laws relating to chemical factories.
The government must set up a monitoring system to check the existence of illegal chemical factories operating in residential areas and take legal action against the owners instead of simply imposing a fine.
It is high time to consider the process of relocation of these factories to a suitable area. There are many existing laws but they are not enough to prevent these tragedies, unless they are implemented strictly. Every time we choose to ignore the problem or walk away from such heinous acts, we give rise to another Chawkbazar, Nimtoli and Tazreen Tragedy.
Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-law from Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, an Advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and an activist.