LPG cylinders making Dhaka sit on a time bomb  

Published : Tuesday, 5 March, 2024 at 12:00 AM
Bangladeshs vibrant metropolis, Dhaka, is a city of contrasts, a well-balanced mix of history and modernity. But hidden underneath its untamed beauty is a growing concern that has been subtly stoking the danger: the widespread usage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders. Although LPG is a popular and practical energy source, its unrestrained growth in Dhaka is making it more vulnerable to fire mishaps. Therefore, in order to counter this growing menace, the authority must take swift action.

On February 29, Capital Dhaka saw yet another horrifying fire that claimed lives. Following the horrific fire at the Green Cozy Cottage building on Bailey Road that evening, which resulted in at least 46 fatalities and more than 20 serious injuries, a death by negligence lawsuit has been filed. The case targets Amin Mohammad Group – the developer of the building, the owner of the building, the building manager and owners as well as managers of two restaurants operating at the building. But, it seems the law enforcers are not targeting the original culprits and merely looking for few scapegoats.

Given that the government agencies were aware of the possibility of fire at the multistory building, the Bailey Road fire incident will always be remembered as a textbook case of structural homicide and death brought on by collective negligence. In addition to a number of other anomalies, the buildings extensive use of LPG cylinders, like many other buildings in Dhaka, caused the site to become a minefield. The buildings ability to host restaurants in front of government agencies like Public Works, RAJUK, City Corporation, Fire Service, and Civil Defense for years without receiving approval is the question at hand as restaurant kitchens need special setup, particularly while using LPG cylinders.

The Green Cozy Cottage has been utilized for commercial purposes that are against the law, according to the case statement. The case statement also makes clear that the restaurants in question were not taking the necessary safety precautions when using LPG cylinders. The buildings restaurant owners allegedly kept LPG cylinders in a negligent manner on the ground floor. The “Chumuk” restaurants gas cylinder exploded, starting a fire that quickly spread throughout the structure and claimed lives.

For the past two decades, the government has permitted the commercial usage of gas cylinders, which are legally classified as explosives, without putting in place any systems to inspect the cylinders or stop their dangerous marketing. Of the approximately 3 crore LPG cylinders already in use in homes and businesses, not a single one has undergone regulatory testing.

The safety valve, gas regulator, and gas supply rubber pipe are the three most crucial LPG cylinder accessories since they bear the brunt of the stress during operation. LPG cylinders are regularly moved and disconnected from cooking burners by users. Low-quality accessories were the cause of eight of the ten LPG cylinder-related accidents that the Department of Explosives investigated in 2018-19.

Cylinder incidents were rarely investigated by the explosives department. However, the investigations never led to any criminal proceedings. However, users were not involved in more than 5% of the LPG cylinder-related mishaps that the explosives department looked at. In 2017, the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defense responded to 872 gas cylinder-related fire and explosion accidents. In 2018, there were 953 fire incidents caused by gas cylinders, according to the fire service. Businesses who supply cylinder gas blamed accidents on users ignorance, echoing government agents. However, the explosives department is unaware of whether the businesses were disposing of or reselling their useless cylinders.

From several years, LPG cylinders are being installed throughout Dhaka city at residential or commercial spaces. Many buildings are installing several LPG cylinders together at the ground floor for uses at different floors. If any of these cylinders blast due to quality or any other reasons, then there will be serious explosion. It will not be a normal fire incident rather the huge explosion itself will take away many lives and people will not be able to escape the scene alive even if there is provisions for fire exit or other fire safety measures. It will be just like a warzone.

We must acknowledge that, Megacity Dhaka has turned into an explosive warzone due to the overuse of LPG cylinders in densely populated areas. As the authority is not allowing gas connection in many of the residential or commercial buildings, the people are using LPG cylinders and little they can do about the quality of those cylinders while cylinder businesses are making revenues in billions. Though the authority refers to scarcity of gas to deny new connections despite approved demand notes, the reality is millions are using illegal connections managing the authority.

To makeover Dhaka from a vicious warzone to a peaceful city, the government needs to ban use of LPG cylinders in the city for the betterment. It is because, if a fire incident takes place due to faults from LPG cylinders in a highly-populated place like Dhaka, the casualties can be in numbers as not only the faulty cylinder but also other cylinders in the vicinity will explode like a bomb.

The authority needs to install gas connections at every household and commercial spaces of Dhaka city. There is no need to have usual gas provisions at less-populated areas outside Dhaka. Moreover, the relevant authority must conduct regular inspection about the quality of LPG cylinders. The users should also be made aware of ensuring the quality of LPG cylinders before use through awareness campaigns.

There is no reason that the authority cannot supply normal gas throughout Dhaka city or other major cities. They need to eliminate all illegal connections and need to stop supplying the natural gas at less populated areas. Moreover, a large amount of our gas is used for electricity production. But if we are putting lives of dwellers of cities like Dhaka, then there is no point of ensuring consistent electricity supply at the cost of millions of lives. The government also needs to consider alternative sources for electricity production.

Additionally, if the government keeps insisting on use of LPG at densely populated Dhaka and other large cities, then they can supply it themselves through underground gas pipelines rather than illogically favoring the shrewd businessmen who are earning in billions by supply low quality LPG cylinders while putting the lives of the people on stake.

Whenever a fire incident occurs, our authorities suddenly become active and similar things are happening after the Bailey Road incident. After a social media post of its architect, the Rajuk officials have raided Gawsia Twin Peak building in Dhakas Dhanmondi and shuttered three restaurants, demolished two, and cut off power to another. But, these businesses have obtained permission from relevant authorities and invested huge money here. This cannot be a process to stop their business before Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr.

Few of these businessmen invested money which they earned from abroad and even many have restaurant business experiences in foreign countries. If we stop their business forcefully, then these entrepreneurs might even move their money abroad. Moreover, this will cause many workers of these restaurants to become unemployed. Hence, our authorities need to provide them proper notice and a compliance chart for now as we need to protect these businesses. If these restaurants or building owners cannot comply with those guidelines, then the authority can shut their businesses down. The authority must be fully honest and compliant in providing any approvals for business or building in the future.

As Bangladesh continues to experience economic growth, more and more restaurants will come into business including international franchises. Along with fire safety measures, the authority should also ensure food quality and grade. There should be law to ensure that owners and employees of all restaurants have vocational certificate on food quality assurance as low quality of food can be as deadly as fire incidents.

Our law enforcers and the relevant authorities must hold accountable everyone violating the regulations which worked as a supporting factor behind the Bailey Road fire incident. But the suppliers of low quality LPG cylinders must not be spared. Unfortunately, the law enforcers are completely ignoring this side of the accident though it is the source of the fire.

If there is no check on the quality of the LPG cylinders and these are frequently used in the megacity Dhaka, then we will keep observing thousands of incidents like that at Bailey Road in the future only if we, ourselves, are spared from any such incidents. Hopefully, the relevant authorities will address this threat with their eyes open.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla

Similar Posts