Residents of Korail slum in Dhaka’s Mohakhali have been gripped in fear of eviction since hearing that the government is planning to recover the land to beef up security in the wake of the July 1 Gulshan terror attack.
The ICT Division of the government plans to set up a high-tech park under the Private Sector Development Support Project in the 19-hectare land of the slum.
The fear has deepened after the recent government move of stopping a boat service across the Gulshan Lake, the only way for the slum people to get to the city.
The slum, which has been home to thousands of people since Bangladesh’s independence, has gone through several eviction measures by the government in the form of disconnection of utility services.
The World Bank and the Department For International Development (DFID) are funding the high-tech park project project.
Korail slum is located beside the Gulshan-Banani Lake under wards 19 and 20 of Dhaka North City Corporation.
During the census of 2011, around 40,700 people lived in Korail, the biggest slum in Dhaka.
A report of the Economic Empowerment of the Poorest (EEP) published in 2012 shows that more than 20,000 families reside in Korail.
Mahbubur Rahman, Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) manager for the Promoting Environmental Health for the Urban Poor project for Korail slum, however, said: “At least 250,000 people are there in the slum and adjacent areas.”
Homeless, poor and unemployed people from across the country, who came to Dhaka city in search of livelihoods, mostly live in the slum.
They comprise a significant portion of the locality’s workforce, working in different sectors such as garment, transportation, construction, land development, waste management and small industries.
Fatema, 63, a resident of the slum for around 30 years, said: “We heard recently that the government wants to evict us. Where will we go after the eviction and how can we maintain our livelihood?”
Nilufa, 23, lives in a small room with her husband and two sons in the slum. She works as a domestic help for two families in Mohakhali area.
She said: “I earn Tk4,500 a month. My husband Omar Miah is a rickshaw-puller, who earns around Tk6,000. If the slum is demolished, we will lose our home as well as our earning sources.”
Nilufa said she was born in the slum and has been facing threats of eviction all her life.
Auto-rickshaw driver Kurrum, 48, who lives in Beltola area of Korail, said he had come to the place from Nandail of Mymenshingh 25 years ago. As there was no opportunity of earning livelihood in his village, he came to Dhaka. Now he has a five-member family that depends on him.
About the government’s eviction plan, Kurrum said: “If the government evicts us, we will be in big trouble.”
In 1999, two legal aid organisations – Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) and Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) – jointly filed a writ petition against an eviction drive.
On April 6, 2012, the ASK and BLAST filed another petition on behalf of the residents of Korail slum after the government had conducted a massive drive to evict the poor people on April 4.
Following the petition, the High Court directed the ICT Division to take appropriate measures for the rehabilitation of the slum dwellers.
Supreme Court lawyer barrister Sara Hossain, who is the honorary executive director of BLAST, told the Dhaka Tribune that evicting these people was not the only solution because the people of Korail slum are also providing services to the city people.
“Besides, the slum people are also citizens of the country. So, the government should also think about their livelihoods,”she said.
Seeking anonymity, an official of the ICT Division told the Dhaka Tribune: “The court has directed the ICT Division to submit a report on the government plans for rehabilitation of Korail slum residents.”
When contacted, the ICT Division’s Legal Adviser Taposh Kanti Bol refused to make any comment on the issue.