Declared ‘abandoned’, many Dhaka markets teeter on the brink of another disaster

Despite several initiatives over the past five years, these structures have yet to be demolished

Published : 20 March 2024, 09:27 PM
Updated : 20 March 2024, 09:27 PM

After major incidents like fires or accidents, authorities often go onto an overdrive before taking their foot off the gas once public attention dissipates. This pattern has persisted for years in Dhaka's precarious shopping malls, which remain still in use despite being declared abandoned over safety risks.

The authorities' leniency and the traders' reluctance to address safety concerns are fuelling worries again after recent tragedies like the Bailey Road blaze that claimed 46 lives.

Despite previous incidents in Bangabazar and New Market, business continues as usual in rundown markets.

Some traders remain adamant to stay on, arguing that their market is not risky, while others express willingness to relocate if offered alternative spaces.

Meanwhile, city corporations claim to address issues in these risky markets, but progress is often slow, with little visible improvement even a year after previous disasters.

Out of the 43 markets managed by Dhaka North City Corporation, 20 have been flagged as risky, with eight of them deemed to be in a highly fragile state.

These markets were officially labelled as abandoned and hazardous on Apr 1, 2019.

Despite several initiatives over the past five years, these structures have yet to be demolished.

Following the Bangabazar fire on Apr 4 last year, efforts were made to cut off electricity, water, and gas connections and demolish one of the markets. However, these plans were thwarted by opposition from traders.

The city authorities have also engaged in discussions with traders from these markets, but so far, no solution has been reached.

Instead, traders have resorted to temporary repairs, such as plastering and patching cracks, to continue business.

Notably, there are no warning signs or banners alerting shoppers to the risks associated with these markets.

Traders refute the designation of these markets as risky and allege that the city corporation intends to dismantle them.


The list of ‘abandoned’ markets includes Gulshan North kitchen market, Gulshan South Paka Market, Mohammadpur kitchen market’s ground and first floors, Rayerbazar Market, Karwan Bazar’s No. 1 and No. 2 markets, Karwan Bazar’s temporary kitchen market, and Karwan Bazar raw material market.

On the ’at risk’ list are Khilgaon Taltala Super Market, Gulshan North Paka Market, Gabtoli Prantik Super Market, Mohammadpur Town Hall Auditorium cum supermarket, Mohammadpur Ring Road tin-shed Market, Mohammadpur Ring Road Paka Market, Karwan Bazar poultry market, Karwan Bazar fish market, Karwan Bazar Karmakar Shed, and markets around the kitchen market in the area and Kalmilata Market.


Despite being declared abandoned five years ago, another floor has been constructed atop the first floor of the Gulshan North kitchen market. This additional floor now hosts shops, despite visible cracks in the building's structure, beams, and staircases, with plaster falling off in many areas.

Recently, a section of the roof above a crockery shop on the ground floor collapsed. Despite these hazards, Belayet Hossain, the shop owner, remains undeterred, expressing faith in divine protection and dismissing concerns about the building's stability.

Speculation is rife about the city corporation's plan to demolish and rebuild the market.

Belayet and Abdul Malek, president of the market's traders' association, express differing opinions.

While Belayet expresses willingness to relocate if provided with alternative space, the traders' leader is frustrated by the city corporation’s inaction.

"We lack authority as the city corporation owns the market. Our position on the committee is temporary, subject to change. Please direct any questions to the city corporation," he told

The DNCC has deemed the Mohammadpur kitchen market abandoned. On Wednesday, cracks were observed in the roof and beams of the market, with plaster falling off. To conceal these issues, the ground floor has been patched in various spots with a white colour. Similarly, patches of plaster can also be seen on the upper floor.

Md Lutfor Rahman Babul, president of the DNCC Kitchen Market Merchants’ Association, claims the market is not risky, despite being listed as such.

"The nearby Town Hall Market was categorised as risky. Our market was not considered risky initially, but it was later included in the list. Nonetheless, we insisted on making alternative arrangements for us."

The city corporation attempted to evict the Karwan Bazar raw material market on May 11, 2023, a month after the Bangabazar fire. However, they faced obstruction from traders and had to retreat. No further eviction drives were conducted in other abandoned markets in the area.

On Jun 8, 2023, a meeting was held at the TCB Bhaban auditorium between the DNCC and businessmen to discuss relocating the kitchen and raw material markets of Karwan Bazar. Local Government Minister Md Tajul Islam, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, and Mayor Atiqul Islam attended the meeting.

During the meeting, the mayor urged traders to leave the risky markets, but they refused. Businessmen also caused disruptions during the mayor's speech. The mayor warned that traders would be held accountable if any accidents occurred in these risky buildings in Karwan Bazar.

Following the meeting, businessmen took the initiative to plaster and paint the vulnerable buildings' cracks and walls. Another nearby market, along with the Karwan Bazar kitchen market, received similar treatment, with white paint covering the entire market. Despite painted signboards outside, none bear the label 'risky'.

Lokman Hossain, general secretary of the kitchen market traders’ association, shared that during a meeting with the DNCC mayor, home minister, and local government minister, it was decided that three markets, excluding the raw material market, would either stay or be relocated to a complex within Karwan Bazar. He clarified that discussions revolved around temporary market shifts, not permanent ones.

Lokman criticised the lack of action, stating: "They just issue threats without taking any real steps. That's why traders have taken it upon themselves to ensure their safety."

He questioned the sudden classification of a building constructed in 1986 as unsafe, noting originally designed for 12 storeys, it has only been developed up to the second floor.

“Whose fault is this? No one seems willing to address it."

He speculated, "It appears bureaucrats are intentionally branding it as risky to further their own agendas of displacing traders. Karwan Bazar is central to Dhaka; securing a space here means having access to office setups. That seems to be their main objective."

Mayor Atiqul stated that the city corporation is actively addressing issues with risky markets and promised updates after a forthcoming meeting and discussions with the home minister. Additionally, he mentioned plans to relocate the Karwan Bazar shops to Gabtoli.


Architect Iqbal Habib criticised the practice of continuing business in risky markets, calling it a "terrible trend”.

"These are a disaster in the making," he said.

He highlighted the exceptional case of Gulshan No. 1 market, where all occupants vacated within a month following a court ruling.

However, the state should not rely solely on court rulings to take action, he said.

He stressed the importance of institutions like the city corporation prioritising public safety over external influences.

Habib, the vice-president of Bangladesh Environment Movement, remarked that there should be no compromise on safety standards, whether it pertains to Karwan Bazar, Gulshan, or Banani.

In the aftermath of the Bailey Road restaurant building tragedy on Feb 29, he highlighted a lack of steps to ensure the safety of risky buildings in the capital.

Instead of just arresting restaurant workers and officials, the authorities should have prioritised making buildings safe or declaring them unfit until necessary safety measures were implemented, he said.

Regarding traders undertaking building repairs, Habib stressed that retrofitting is not a simple task akin to plastering walls and should be carried out by the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha or RAJUK-approved professionals.

He said the completion of construction is not as straightforward as some may assume because obtaining approval and an occupancy certificate is crucial.

[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]