The Public Works Department (PWD) authorities conducted an eviction drive at a slum in Agargaon, Dhaka yesterday only a day after speakers during a dialogue agreed that homeless people and slum residents should not be evicted unless their rehabilitation is ensured.
The eviction took place in the slum – built on a PWD-owned land between the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation building and the Department of Immigration and Passport office – for around five hours and drove out one of the most impoverished communities in the city to the streets.
The eviction was conducted by a mobile court led by PWD Executive Magistrate Nur Alam, while PWD Executive Engineer Mohammad Ataur Rahman Siddique visited the spot, among others.
[caption id="attachment_38953" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Probir Kumar Sarker/Dhaka Tribune
Residents of the slum said nearly 10,000 people lost their homes to the eviction, PWD officials claimed only 1,000-1,200 people were evicted.
Locals said the number could be between 5,000 and 6,000 and the slum population had grown significantly in the past few years.
Witnesses said the PWD eviction team started demolishing the shanties and shops in the slum around 12:10pm using a bulldozer and with the help of a dozen of workers wearing red bandanna.
Asked, the PWD officials told the Dhaka Tribune that they had sent three eviction notices to the slum residents two months ago.
Also Read- ‘Rehabilitation before eviction’
“We sent them notices two months ago to vacate the PWD land, but the slum dwellers did not comply. The deadline of the letters ended on October 8,” said PWD Sub-Divisional Engineer Mehedi Hasan.
A group of the evicted slum residents acknowledged having received the notices, but another group rejected the officials' claim, saying they had not received any such notices.
“We only came to know about it last night [Wednesday night],” said one of the residents.
However, three illegal offices of three Awami League affiliates – Jubo League, Swechchhasebak League and Sramik League – which are in the same area were not evicted. But the office of Awami Projonmo League was demolished.
Asked in this regard, Ataur Rahman said: “No establishment will be allowed in the area. They [the eviction team] have already asked the party offices to shift from the area immediately.”
The eviction was convicted to free the space to widen the road in front of the passport office, Mehedi said.
'Give more votes to Hasina'
As the PWD officials proceeded with demolishing the slum, its residents were sitting beside the road, crying over their houses.
[caption id="attachment_38959" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Probir Kumar Sarker/Dhaka Tribune
Khadijza, one of the affected residents, was heard telling her neighbour Kulsum: “Cast more votes for Hasina [Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina]. Cast your vote twice, thrice, may be more times in the next election. Then maybe you will get a flat in a posh area like Gulshan or Banani,” she mocked Kulsum who cast her vote for the Awami League in the ninth national election in 2008.
Jewel Uddin, 26, a rickshaw puller, said he had moved to Dhaka from Sherpur to earn a living.
“I have three mouths to feed. I have no land in my village. I do not know where I will go now,” he said.
A promise that is easily broken
Referring to different housing acts and policies, a national dialogue took place in Dhaka on Wednesday where speakers said slums should not be evicted without a rehabilitation plan.
The dialogue, arranged by the All Party Parliamentary Group under Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad, was attended by 12 lawmakers along with LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Khandaker Engineer Mosharraf Hossain, prominent urban planners, architects and high officials from several private and government organisations.
“There should be no difference between the development process of urban and rural areas across the country, and the government in its Vision 2021 and Vision 2041 aims to eradicate that,” the LGRD minister said at the dialogue.
When the Dhaka Tribune mentioned it to Mehedi Hasan, he said they were “just carrying out the order from our superiors”.