Repetition of fire incidents due to acute lack of good governance, accountability, and unethical behaviour of government officials
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has blamed government officials and their involvement with corruption as the main reason behind recurring tragic fire incidents across the country.
The graft watchdog also claimed that the government has not been abiding by its own decisions, regulations and instructions in preventing occurrences of devastating fire incidents, such as the devastating fire at Churihatta in capital’s Chawkbazar area in February last year and a previous incident that took place around the same area at Nimtoli in 2010.
The study – Nimtoli, Churihatta and Afterwards: Governance Challenges in Ensuring Fire Safety in Old Dhaka – was unveiled virtually on Thursday.
Speaking at the virtual event, TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said: “Many guidelines, instructions, and recommendations were marked, but a lion’s share of these have not been implemented yet. So if any new fire accident takes place in future, there is nothing to be surprised.”
TIB also said as much as Tk2,50,000 were paid as bribes during issuance or renewal of licence for flammable items, as revealed by the study conducted between October 2019 and August 2020.
It mentioned that four government institutions had issued necessary licences regarding the business of dangerous inflammable items in exchange of bribes.
It also said money paid as bribe ranged between Tk1,50,000 to Tk2,50,000 for the government’s Department of Explosives, Tk10,000 to Tk20,000 for Department of Environment, Tk3,000 to Tk12,000 for Fire Service and Civil Defence department, and Tk1,500 to Tk18,000 for Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC).
TIB further said that the study found members of law enforcement agencies take bribes up to Tk300 on highways and roads to allow transportation of inflammable items freely.
Politicians also interfere in easing the process of receiving licence for those (inflammable) items. Some get licenses issued from the DSCC by hiding the real identity of their businesses. Dishonest DSCC officials are responsible for this, added the study.
Recommendations yet to be implemented
While presenting the study, Md Mostafa Kamal, deputy program manager (Research and Policy wing of TIB), also added: “After the Nimtoli fire incident in 2010, a probe body made a 17-point recommendation while a task force presented a 4-point recommendation to avoid similar incidents in future, however, the recommendations are yet to be implemented.”
Of the recommendations, eight recommendations from the probe body and one from the task force was implemented partially, the study also noted.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman further said: “Government and its organizations violated their own policies without any hesitation. They also did not give any priority and were in contempt of court as well.”
He blamed the repetition of the fire incidents due to acute lack of good governance, accountability, and unethical behaviour of government officials.
“There is a clear lack of political willingness to transfer the chemical warehouses from old Dhaka. Moreover, interests and failure of administrative officials and law enforcers and unethical pressure from businessmen as well as syndicated irregularity is also behind this,” he said.
“Victims are yet to get rightful compensation. Also guidelines are yet to be prepared,” he remarked.
“These incidents will happen again, if the combined initiatives by the stakeholders are not taken to ensure safety and security for all,” he continued.
The study found that the Department of Environment has constraints of human resources and budget. Scope of work widened over the decades for DSCC but they are understaffed along with RAJUK, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, and the Department of Explosives.
The study recommended preparing a policy to compensate victims of any accident. Proper compensations to the victim families of Nimtoli and Churihatta tragedies must be provided and steps should be taken to rehabilitate them, the 10-point recommendations added.
A national chemical safety committee must be formed with members from concerned institutions and experts, and a guideline and policy on chemical safety must be formulated. Risky and unauthorized factories must be identified and their operation must be stopped, it said.
Proper legal actions must be ensured against the persons and institutions liable for delaying the implementation of recommendations made by the inquiry committee and the taskforce and for contempt of court, it added.
Fire accident-prone buildings of old Dhaka must be identified and necessary steps must be taken to install firefighting instruments and fire exits in all buildings; sufficient water supply in Wasa lines must be ensured and separate fire hydrant points should be established. Accountability of the concerned authorities should also be ensured.