Residents of the Korail slum area in Dhaka, ravaged by fires for the third time in little over a year on March 16, are now looking to the courts to ensure they do not lose their homes once again.
According to the census 2011, around 40,700 people lived in Korail, making it the biggest slum in Dhaka. A report from Economic Empowerment of the Poorest (EEP), published in 2012, showed that the sprawling shanties housed more than 20,000 families.
Each of these families is no stranger to loss or the fear of loss, not only due to fires but also as the spectre of eviction has long loomed over their heads. The land on which the slum is located is owned by the Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL), and plans to build a high-tech park in the area have long been stalled as the government has been unable to relocate the current residents.
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A portion of the devastation at Korail is captured by a journalist at the spot on March 16, 2017 Courtesy
The government began eviction drives in Korail in 2012 so that construction of the Mohakhali ICT Village under the Private Sector Development Support Project could begin. However, the attempts were foiled as Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) and Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) filed petitions against evictions without rehabilitation.
In the petitions, ASK and BLAST cited Article 15 (a) of the Constitution, which states: “It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the state to…provide basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care.”
In addition, Articles 31 and 32, which guarantee fundamental rights to protection and life in accordance with the law, also impose an obligation upon the state not to take measures detrimental to life, body and property of any person, such as by evicting residents without first organising alternate accommodations.
Subsequently, in 2014, the Bangladesh Hi-tech Park Authority (BHTPA) submitted six options for the resettlement of the slum dwellers, while certain NGOs also gave recommendations. As the court ponders which of these options should be approved, the residents of Korail wait with bated breath to learn their fate.
ICT Division’s Legal Adviser Taposh Kanti Bol said the government was also waiting for the High Court’s final ruling on the matter.
The rehabilitation options
The first option from the Bangladesh Hi-tech Park Authority (BHTPA) feasibility study recommends that the BHTPA, with support from its ministry and other government agencies, takes responsibility to provide compensation to those affected by the project, leaving resettlement to the affected persons (slum dwellers) themselves.
In the second option, the BHPTA places the responsibility of providing compensation in the hands of PPP (public-private partnership) investors.
Option three recommends that the BHTPA puts the onus of resettlement on the PPP investor, with an obligation to provide a replacement site or housing outside the boundaries of the project.
Option four also lays the responsibility of resettlement on PPP investors with obligation to provide a replacement site or housing outside the boundaries of the project.
However, in this instance the PPP investor is allowed to recover the resettlement costs from premium housing built within the project boundary. Thus in balance, capital outlay for resettlement may be returned from the income from premium housing.
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The fire in Korail on March 16 was the third time such an incident occurred at the slum in little over a year Abu Hayat Mahmud/DHAKA TRIBUNE
According to option five, the responsibility of resettlement is once again with PPP investors, but the PPP investors will be provided land within the project boundary for building the economy housing for resettlement. The investor will build both premium housing and economy housing. Revenue generated from the premium housing will cover the costs of the economy housing that would be used for resettlement.
According to the sixth option, the government will take full responsibility for resettlement of all Korail slum dwellers. This will require an inter-ministerial decision with the involvement of three executing agencies – the BHTPA, Public Works Department, and Bangladesh Telecommunication and Regulatory Authority.
Also Read- Korail slum dwellers claim fire was ‘premeditated arson attack’
In addition, NGO Dustha Shasthya Kendra (DSK) and BLAST have proposed the following medium-to-long term recommendations: When prioritising low cost housing, the government must involve the extreme poor in the process and consider their employment sources and transport costs when selecting the location for the housing.
The DSK and BLAST recommendations also state that allocation of low-cost housing must be transparent and on a need only basis and the state must take the responsibility for provision of all utilities and services in the slum, to cut out middlemen who exploit the urban extreme poor.
What is at stake for Korail residents
When contacted, Chairman of the Centre for Urban Studies Prof Nazrul Islam said: “Eviction without proper resettlement will lead to an increase in crime as there is a possibility that the dispossessed people would resort to subversive activities if they find nothing to do to make ends meet.”
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The devastation at Korail following the latest fire on March 16, 2017 Mahmud Hossain Opu/DHAKA TRIBUNE
He added that it would not be possible to shift all of the roughly 50,000 slum dwellers as many are employed in the Mohakhali, Banani and Gulshan areas and shifting them away would potentially deprive them of their livelihoods.
“The government may put a number of the slum people in that area by providing apartments. The rest of the slum dwellers, who have lived there for more than 20 to 25 years, may shift to another satellite city and other Public Works Department free spaces adjacent to the city areas,” he said.
Earlier, Supreme Court lawyer barrister Sara Hossain, who is the honorary executive director of BLAST, told the Dhaka Tribune that only evicting the slum dwellers was not a solution, as the people of Korail slum also provide services in the city.