The transition between nothing and governance isn't one that rolls smoothly. Unfortunately, the time taken between becomes exasperating as political opponents diametrically opposite in thought and process require time to consolidate. In the eight years of the current government's tenure there hasn't been an exception to the rule. Slowly, though visibly, signs of governance tools being established and worked on are there. For the populace it is still painfully slow. The perennial battle between convenience and safety is a case in point.
The revelation of the Fire Service that over a thousand malls and shopping centres in Dhaka fall in the category of 'very risky' and 'risky' in terms of addressing fire hazards, is preposterous. According to the department, these establishments have been running for over two years and opens up to question the activities of all the relevant government and city corporation offices responsible for such approvals. 'Very risky' means there are no fire escapes. 'Risky' means the fire escapes are inadequate for mass evacuation. Access of fire services to essential facilities such as fire hydrants and water resources is almost a luxury. Sadly enough, beyond the glitzy exteriors and brightly lit, well appointed shops and elevators the safety aspect is disgracefully ignored whether it be fire extinguishing equipment available and working or stairways wide enough to allow mass exodus and indeed assembly points.
When the smoke billowed black plumes from Basundhara Shopping Complex, the then State Minister Sohel Taj was all over the media striding purposefully, promising action plans to prevent future recurrences. Taj threw in the gauntlet long ago. It's tragic that his action plan - comprising four elements - that was disclosed, has gathered more dust than he has.
His promise of modern fire-fighting equipment to deal with accidents in high-rise buildings hasn't been implemented because the same story 'not equipped' has been banality stated over and again. Rules to ensure proper and mandatory safeguards against fire break-out haven't proven to be worth more than the paper they were inked on. The multiple authorities responsible for clearance of designs of such malls have not been integrated as of yet. And this is only a small part of the danger, that too in Dhaka alone. The stomach-churning devastation of slum-fires that are becoming uncomfortably repetitive and the disaster at Gulshan DIT Market One have re-emphasised the inability to act quickly enough to prevent extensive damage.
The government's own offices, especially those in rented premises are not just inadequate, they're woefully so and the Fire Safety weeks are rituals gone through the motions. It would be interesting to know when the last fire-drills in government offices were run, whether they have identified fire-wardens and if there are, are their skills updated.
Building codes are blatantly violated, as the Dhaka skyline suggests. There has to be change no matter the cost, otherwise a series of law-suits by affected aggrieved will turn out more costly and not just to businesses but also the authorities. People pay their taxes to get services and safety in a shopping mall is just one on the long list. That it won't be looked at is not a negotiable point.