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High-rise buildings in Sylhet lack fire safety facilities

buMost of the high-rise buildings in Sylhet city have been built without adequate fire safety provisions and fire fighting facilities, violating building construction and civil defense codes. People concerned fear that these buildings may turn into death traps if a fire breaks out there. Fire service and civil defence authorities claimed that not a signal owner of these high-rise buildings have taken the ‘occupation’ certificate from them.

Sources at the Sylhet City Corporation said there are over 42,000 residential and commercial structures in the city. Among these, about 2,400 are high-rise building. Around 350 are 6 to 11 storied. A medium tremor could cause damage to as many as 20 per cent of these high-rise buildings, the sources added.

Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC), 1993, made legally binding in 2006, gives necessary guidance, laws and code on fire prevention and safety measures for construction of any building. However, the code is not properly followed by building owners, said sources.

Additional director of fire service and civil defence in Sylhet said that due to lack of necessary laws, no action can be taken against the high rise building owners for their negligence. “Almost all the building owners take a preliminary certificate from us before getting approval on their building plans. It is the terms and conditions of the certificate, it is mentioned that owners must take ‘occupation’ certificate after implementing all the facilities mentioned in the condition. But none took that certificate so far,” he said.

Nur Azizur Rahman superintendent engineer of Sylhet City Corporation (SCC), said that the soil condition of the city is unsuitable for heavy constructions.

About 90 per cent soil test reports said that the heart layer of these soils lie 60 feet below the ground. The bearing capacity of the soil is average 0.9 TSF (Tonnes per square feet). Such type of soil permits two storied buildings at most. To build a high-rise building, proper development of foundation with highest treatment in necessary,” he adds.

Safety and hazards on life, structure, materials and neighborhood should be the foremost concerns in any building design. The very spirit of fire safety should be safety of life,” said Nur Aziz.

He said that the SCC considers buildings more than six storied as high-rise. “We approved the building plan after the present the certificate of fire service,” he said.

After visiting different multistoried buildings in the city it was found that besides some fire extinguisher hung from the wall, no fire safety system has been implemented or NOC obtained from the BFSCD. Only one staircase was found in almost all high rise buildings.

Mamun khan, owner of newly constructed Surma tower Taltola road of the city said that none was monitoring their work during the construction of the building. “We were not clear what was needed for fire safety. The authorities issued certificate but was not monitoring the implementation. We invested crores of Taka on our building, so we would also follow the rules, if we understand the need,” he added. Mamun claimed that negligence was present in all related sectors.

As per Fire Prevention and Dousing Act, 2003, the Fire Service and Civil Defense authority, and not the local government, is empowered to inspect any building and check their compliance with the required fire-safety provisions. In case of non-compliance or negligence, they can notify the

building owner for rectification or declare the building unsafe for public use, the BCC officials said.

Unfortunately, there has been no such instance of declaring a building unsafe in the city in 11 years since the law was enacted and fire-safety rules were put under Fire Prevention and Dousing Act, which needs implementation, the officials acknowledged.