After deadly mall fire, Dhaka authorities crack down on improperly licensed restaurants

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
After deadly mall fire, Dhaka authorities crack down on improperly licensed restaurants A crowd gathers outside as Bangladesh firefighters and forensic experts inspect the Bailey Road building in Dhaka where a blaze killed 46 people, March 1, 2024.
Munir Uz Zaman/AFP

Authorities in Dhaka said they have begun cracking down on unsafe restaurants after 46 people died in a fire last week that gutted a multi-story shopping mall and started in an eatery on the ground floor.

Police said they have since arrested hundreds of people who were allegedly operating improperly licensed restaurants. In addition, Rajuk (the city development authority), fire service and other agencies, including the High Court, have begun taking action against violators of building and fire codes, officials said. 

In the wake of other deadly fires that struck the Bangladesh capital region in previous years, authorities blamed them on lapses or violations of public safety regulations and promised stern action to prevent such incidents from recurring. But people here are skeptical that these post-disaster crackdowns will change anything. 

Since late Sunday police have filed 215 cases for potential prosecution and have arrested 381 people linked to buildings containing unsafe, improperly licensed restaurants, said Md. Faruk Hossain, Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman. 

“The drive will continue in line with the government decision,” he told BenarNews.

Md. Ashraful Islam, Rajuk’s town planner of Rajuk, said his organization launched its own drive to get rid of unauthorized restaurants in Dhaka.

“Our team sealed off 12 unsafe restaurants in Dhanmondi and demolished a restaurant illegally set up on the roof of a building,” he told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, the High Court formed a committee, headed by the home affairs secretary, to investigate the deadly fire in the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall, a seven-floor building in Bailey Road. The committee is to include fire service and civil defense experts, Rajuk authorities and experts from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

Saiful Islam, a Dhaka resident, said that other post-disaster crackdowns had failed to bring about legitimate improvements.

“The police have started drives. Rajuk launched crackdowns. Many government agencies would follow them,” Dhaka resident Saiful Islam told BenarNews. 

“The buildings and restaurants would be sealed off in a bid to show how serious they are for implementing the laws,” the Banani neighborhood resident said. “But why did they not carry out the drives before the fire?” 

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Workers from Rajuk (the city development authority) demolish a rooftop restaurant at the Gawsia Twin Peak building in Dhaka, March 4, 2024. [Sabrina Yasmin/BenarNews]

Specifically, a fire at the 22-story FR Tower in Banani on March 28, 2019, killed at least 25 people and injured 70 others. Saiful Islam said the government agencies had proclaimed they were taking serious action at that time.

“They sealed off almost all shops and unauthorized buildings in the whole Banani neighborhood. But as days passed, everything changed. Nothing happened – the buildings are open,” he said.

About a week earlier, authorities announced they would launch a crackdown on businesses storing highly flammable materials near residential areas after a fire in Dhaka’s old section killed nearly 70 people.

Even then, experts and residents doubted whether authorities were serious about preventing such recurrences, pointing out that a similar crackdown was promised after a 2010 chemical fire killed 124 people in Dhaka’s Nimtali neighborhood.

Across Bangladesh, over 1,000 people have been killed in 190,000 fires over the last nine years, according to the nation’s fire service and civil defense.

As of Monday, police had not released a cause for the Feb. 29 to March 1 fire that killed 46 and injured another 22, including six who remained hospitalized on Monday. 

One day after the blaze, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said that gas cylinders had blocked the building’s only stairwell. The building also has an elevator.

Remediation effort

During a Monday committee meeting, Rajuk decided to establish a remediation plan after discussing information presented by architect Iqbal Habib, a community member, that 88% of Dhaka buildings deviate in some way from the original approved plans.

“We will do it in line with the plan executed to remediate the risky ready-made garments factories,” Islam told BenarNews.

“According to the decision of the meeting, the joint committee of Rajuk, city corporations and fire service and civil defense will attach public notices in front of the unsafe and authorized buildings so that people can be made aware of the dangers,” Islam said.

Reluctant building owners could be forced to go for remediation.

“We will conduct mobile courts against the buildings identified as highly risky. The mobile courts can seal off the buildings or impose heavy fines,” he said.

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Members of the Fire Service and Dhaka South City Corp. stand next to banners declaring a Dhaka building as dangerous following a mobile court ruling, March 4, 2024. [Sony Ramany/BenarNews]

Habib, the architect, said he and others who attended the committee meeting demanded that Rajuk immediately start the process of detecting unsafe, unauthorized buildings across Dhaka.

“Many stakeholders told the meeting that Rajuk, city corporations and other agencies started similar activities following a serious incident, but those drives fizzled out when the issue fell from the public eye,” he told BenarNews.

Habib said he wanted Rajuk to carry out a legitimate probe this time around.

Saiful Islam said Dhaka residents were angry about the fire in Bailey Road.

“That is why Rajuk and other agencies are so active,” he said, adding he was concerned about the families of the victims.

“They will carry the pain throughout their lives.”


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