Faulty and illegally drawn utility lines pose fire threats in city slums
Twenty four firefighting units were needed on Friday night before the fire gutted at least 1,000 shanties in the Jhilpar slum.
Firefighters said all the gas connections to Jhilpar slum are over plastic pipes which made the area more vulnerable to fire spreading rapidly.
This correspondent saw the remains of burnt plastic pipes in the area on a visit, and locals also confirmed the information.
Dhaka North City Corporation mayor Atiqul Islam, on a Saturday visit, said the entire gas connection to the Jhilpar slum was illegal.
“No legal gas connection was provided to the slum,” he added.
Past slum fire experience shows that faulty and plastic gas lines are to blame for the rapid spread of fire.
Lt Col Zillur Rahman, director (operations and maintenance) of the Fire Service, with experience of fighting fires in Dhaka slums for years, told the Dhaka Tribune: “If we number the cause of fires, a faulty gas line will be first in line.”
Slum-dwellers from different parts of Dhaka confirmed that most lines are illegal in slums and are provided by syndicates for money.
Galvanised Iron (GI) Pipes and plastic pipes are being used for illegal gas connections in 3,399 slums in Dhaka.
Of these slums, Korail, the biggest slum in Dhaka, built on 90 acres of government land in the capital’s Mohakhali area, is likely to claim the most lives in case of a future fire incident.
There have been several fire incidents in Korail slum. On December 4, 2016, there was a gas explosion which burnt 526 houses to ashes, according to the fire service. The last one, in January 2017, gutted around 4,996 houses very quickly.
But even after so many incidents, plastic pipes and faulty lines are still there.
Khairul Islam, a resident of Korail slum for two decades said: “The slum is fully connected with GI pipes (for gas connections). In each house, the connection is given by GI pipes.”
But in slum tea-stalls, highly risky plastic pipes are being used.
Director (operations) of Titas Gas, M Kamruzzaman Khan, said: “These lines are illegal. We disconnect these lines, and they reconnect them.
“They do this secretly at night, at times with political influence. Sometimes, officers (of Titas) are involved in the whole process. We also have a scarcity of manpower. Titas has no managing director for a year.”
A few politically influential locals, with the help of a few unscrupulous Titas employees, steal gas from the main transmission and distribution lines of the company at TNT Colony, Wireless Gate, and Gulshan and Banani points, locals say.
Ticking time bomb
Titas officials said GI pipes are only used for internal connections, from gate to stove.
“GI pipe has a low pressure taking capacity, 0.239 psig (pound-force per square inch),” said M Kamruzzaman Khan.
“But the line beside the road has higher pressure taking capacity, 50 psig. We use MS Pipe (mild steel pipe) for central connection.”
But in Korail the central connection is mostly done by GI pipes that are faulty.
Kamruzzaman said: “Because of maintaining no proper welding process, such kinds of accidents happen. The quality of the material used is very low. Before providing a new connection, we (Titas) use air pressure (to check leaks), but people giving gas connections in the slums don’t.”
The same can be seen in all the slums of Dhaka. A ticking time bomb awaits the lives of thousands of people living in the slums.