Press Conference on Chawkbazar Tragedy

Press Conference on Chawkbazar Tragedy

   —24 February 2019

Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB)

On 24 February 2019, Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB) has organised a Press Conference at the Dhaka Reporter’s Unity in order to express their deep regret and condolences towards the loss of 67 lives and several other injured persons, due to the fire from the chemical warehouses that spread to the nearby residential units and other buildings in the area at Chawkbazar, Puran Dhaka. Standing in solidarity with all the victims of the Chawkbazar fire tragedy, the forum demands for immediate implementation of the High Court directives that were provided after the Nimtali fire incident further, and in line of such demands for adequate compensation to be provided to the victims’ families, accountability of the concerned authorities, and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice after conducting an independent investigation.

On 23 February 2019, a team comprising of members from the HRFB member organisations, visited the incident site and observed the area and conversed with several relevant parties. Through this press conference, the Forum shared their observations and placed several demands before the Government, through the journalists, in order to mitigate such manmade disasters in the future.

The forum, in their written statement in the conference, stated that, it is gravely concerned about such repetition of the fire incident. The people of Bangladesh demands a clear answer as to why no steps were taken to resist this horrible repetition of yet another fire tragedy despite the clear order given by the Honourable High Court regarding the Nimtali fire incident. In the last nine years, instead of public welfare, only the interests of a few influential people have been consolidated; who are the ones that have constantly supported them in protecting their interests! Who is responsible for this loss of lives, the unbearably painful survival of so many injured victims and their families of the fire tragedy, whose lives have been permanently scarred!

The speakers present in the conference strongly stated that, one group of people is carefully spreading a well-planned propaganda of the incident in their effort to have an effect on the real story, which is absolutely unacceptable! Several attempts have been made to assert that the cause of the fire was a blast of a gas cylinder; whereas, in our investigations we have yielded some very strong evidence from which it can be suggested that the source of the fire was in Wahed Mansion. The presence of chemical substances increased the spread of the fire. We believe that it is the immediate need of the hour to create a special investigation committee in order to trace the source of the fire and find out why the fire turned into a traumatic inferno.

The forum expressed their intense frustration and anger towards the remark of the responsible minister of the government, who, even after such a catastrophic incident, opined that there were no chemical factories or warehouses in that area. Not only is it clear that chemical substances were present within the affected Wahid Mansion, a lot of chemical substances of different kinds were also found in the underground parking space of the mansion.

The speakers believe that at the moment it is necessary for the government to neither evade the responsibilities nor try and influence the incident for the interests of a group of people, and to take effective steps and ensure proper supervision and accountability. The government cannot get away with a plain statement that it did not get support from influential businessmen. It is the constitutional duty of the government to undertake all necessary measures in order to ensure safety for the public. If they fail to do this, we would have to assume that the government has compromised the safety of the people to benefit the interests of the businessmen. We do not believe that our Government is weak or lacks courage or power. We want such businesses to be shifted elsewhere, and wherever they are shifted, adequate measures to be taken to ensure environmental safety and necessary legal compliance.

It was informed in the Press Conference that Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid & Services Trust (BLAST) and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), BRAC and others have submitted a supplementary application before the Court that day, following up with the case regarding the fire tragedy at Nimtali back in 2010. In the application, the related parties have submitted before the Honourable Court that, despite the clear directives given by Court in the Nimtali incident, no reports were submitted on behalf of the Government regarding the progress of the implementation of the directives.

Through the conference, the following demands have been made:

Short-term demands:

  • Form a special committee who, through independent and fair investigation, find the cause and source of the fire and submit their report without any delay.
  • Find out reasons behind the delay in the implementation of the High Court Directives and punish the perpetrators in due process of law.
  • Ensure adequate medical care for the injured and also provide adequate compensation for the families of the dead victims or who were injured. Create a trust fund like that of Rana Plaza and distribute the fund in a well-planned manner.
  • Arrange for the rehabilitation of the injured persons, children and the victims of disability. Create of a completed list with an overall description of damages of the sufferer and based on the list, take steps to rehabilitate them with sufficient compensation.
  • City Corporation has to immediately cancel/reject all commercial license application in Puran Dhaka.
  • Immediate drive by the administration for the removal of the chemical warehouses and factories in Puran Dhaka.
  • Create a policy regarding the management of chemical substances, and emphasise on the effective implementation of the policy. Have a specific provision punishing those who illegally stock hazardous chemical substances.
  • Make the installation of fire extinguishers compulsory in every household, particularly in the multi-storeyed buildings and commercial properties. Take steps to conduct fire drill regularly.

Long-term Demands

  • Create an observation group with civil society members, youths, and businessmen to raise awareness in the locality. They shall coordinate with local counsellors to raise awareness and collect data of buildings, factories and warehouses that have the risk of causing fire.
  • Increase the number of preventive exercises and fire-drills in Puran Dhaka.
  • Previously, due to environmental causes, it has been possible to transfer the leather industry (tannery) from Hazaribagh to Savar in Dhaka. Keeping this example in mind, demand for making appropriate financial and other effective arrangements, to relocate the chemical factories, manufacturing industries and warehouses.
  • Take a long term initiative to relocate all chemical warehouses from the residential areas in Dhaka.
  • Not just in residential areas, but take steps to stop the usage of all expired cylinders in vehicles.
  • Identify all unauthorised buildings, warehouses of explosive and chemical substances, including warehouses of any other combustible substances in Dhaka.
  • Create of water tank in Dhaka for extinguishing fires.
  • Advertise the use of fire extinguishers through various news channel media.
  • Without the approval of the fire services, not to give permission for the establishment of any such chemical warehouses that may cause explosions.

At the end of the conference, the speakers urged the journalist to constantly follow up and provide information to the people about government’s initiatives.

Participants to the Press Conference were : Hameeda Hossain, Expert, HRFB; Zakir Hossain, Chief Executive, Nagorik Uddyog and Steering Committee Member, HRFB; Shamsul Huda, Executive Director, Association for Land Reforms and Development and Member, HRFB; Ranjan Karmakar, Executive Director, Steps Towards Development and Steering Committee Member, HRFB; Selina Ahmed, Executive Director, Acid Survivors Foundation and Steering Committee Member, HRFB; Shirin Akter, Chairperson, Women with Disabilities Development Foundation and Member,  HRFB; and Tamanna Hoq Riti, Coordinator, HRFB.

The Press Conference was moderated by Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Steering Committee Member, HRFB.