A Hawker's Market
Before the inauguration of the Kamalapur Railway Station on 1 May 1968, Dhaka's main railway station was situated in Fulbaria, adjacent to Gulistan.
A market was developed around the station in 1965, with mostly hawkers and vendors who would bring a headload of goods every day. They used to sell snacks, drinks, souvenirs and items for day-to-day use.
This is how Bangabazar, which would later go on to become the country's largest wholesale and retail market for readymade garments, stumbled upon its humble beginning as merely a "Hawker's Market."
And even though the old railway station was shut down soon after, Bangabazar continued to flourish, with it forming a junction of several busy roads.
But the hawkers, when the market was under the supervision of Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT), had the ill intention of occupying the place permanently. So they illegally constructed temporary tin sheds.
In 1975, the Dhaka municipal administration decided to demolish the tin sheds and construct a market building.
It was easier said than done. Because the land on which the market stood actually belonged to the railway authorities, they were reluctant to transfer its ownership.
Somehow, the railway department came to an agreement with the shop owners that the latter would take pieces of land as a yearly lease and run their businesses legally.
A great leap forward
Nearly a decade later, finally, the area was formally transferred to Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) in 1985. Then in 1989, the corporation completed constructing the planned shopping centre.
By 1990, Bangabazar properly developed as a readymade garments hub, incorporating itself with three other markets with a total land area of 21,250 sq ft.
Still, now, Bangabazar has four units; alongside the Bangabazar Shopping Complex, there are also Gulistan, Mahanagari and Adarsha units, consisting of approximately 5,000 shops.
Interestingly, even though there are concrete pillars on the ground floor, the entire Bangabazar Shopping Complex was constructed with tin and wood.
Apart from readymade garments such as shirts, pants, trousers, t-shirts, jackets, hosiery, sweaters etc., Bangabazar also sells salwar-kameez, sharee as well as footwear in both wholesale and retail trade.
Not only fresh items, but also second-hand and factory overruns are available in this market at very cheap prices, attracting local consumers and traders as well as buyers from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Iran and Russia.
While business remains stagnant almost throughout the year, it generally jumps up in the winter season, and it reaches its peak in the month of Ramadan, which accounts for nearly 70% of the market's yearly sales.
Fire eruption is nothing new for Bangabazar
Albeit Bangabazar being a favourite shopping destination for many, it first acquired worldwide fame for all the wrong reasons.
In 1995, just five years into its journey as the wholesale and retail market of readymade garments, Bangabazar was reduced to rubble by a devastating fire.
At that time, as many as 2,200 shops were totally burnt down to ashes, leaving thousands of shop owners penniless. The total loss caused by the fire was said to be several crore Tk.
In order to rebuild the market, the then-government gave Tk 1 crore and DCC another Tk 40 lakh, while Tk 5,000 were taken from every shop owner.
Then five years ago, on 24 July 2018, another blaze erupted in the Gulistan unit of Bangabazar, burning several shops.
Constant alerts, zero action
On 16 January 2017, an observatory committee of the Fire Service and Civil Defence identified all four units of Bangabazar as "extremely risky".
Then on 17 May of the same year, they served the Bangabazar authorities a notice, pinpointing the market's defaults and recommended taking proper measures within 30 days.
But the recommendations fell on deaf ears. Consequently, the Fire Service and Civil Defence went to scrutinise Bangabazar again on 10 December that year, and this time termed the market's fire extinguishing system "extremely risky" as well.
After the 24 July 2018 fire breakout, Fire Service and Civil Defence served the market authorities two more times.
The Fire Service also put up a signboard in the area on 1 April 2019, declaring the Bangabazar markets and surrounding buildings as dangerous in terms of fire safety. But the signboard was also pulled down later on.
According to them, since the market was constructed of wood, only fire extinguishers would not be enough to prevent the spread of fire in case of an emergency.
In all, the market authorities were served with official notice at least 10 times, according to Brig Gen Md Main Uddin, director general (DG) of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
But even after so many warnings, neither the market authorities nor the shop owners came ahead to take any precautionary measures. And in spite of their failure to do so, Dhaka South City Corporation refrained from taking any notable steps against them.
Bangabazar not alone
It can be deduced that collective negligence from all quarters led to Tuesday's most recent devastation at Bangabazar. And not only Bangabazar, but 96% of shopping malls or markets in the capital are "risky", according to a statement by the Fire Service and Civil Defence in 2017.
But in the last five years, there wasn't any major initiative taken from the government to bring these public places and business centres out of risk.
If the current phenomenon of explosions and fire breakouts continues, we can expect many more tragedies in the imminent future.