‘What will be done with us? Where will we go? No one is talking to us’
Seven days have passed since the fire in Mirpur’s Jhilpar slum. But concerned authorities have yet to decide on how and when to rehabilitate the victims.
Victims alleged that around 50,000 people from 8,000-10,000 families were rendered homeless in the fire.
“What will be done with us? Where will we go? No one is talking to us,” said the victims.
After the fire, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader, Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam and Dhaka-16 MP Elias Mollah visited and provided assurances of rehabilitation.
Local schools shut down to shelter victims
The former residents of the slum have taken up refuge in various schools in the neighbourhood – Bangabandhu Bidyaniketan and Islamia School among several others.
Mayor Atikul instructed the schools to shelter the fire victims.
While schools were scheduled to open on August 20 after the Eid holidays, the fire has pushed the date back by four days. But that is all up in the air, depending on whether the sheltered victims will be provided shelter by that time.
Shahe Alam, headmaster of Bangabandhu Bidyaniketan, said some classes will be disrupted ahead of the upcoming exams. He expressed uncertainty over the victims moving out anytime soon.
When asked, Eliash Mollah said the school was closed for five days, and arrangements will be made in just two days.
Who will rehabilitate the victims?
The slum, one of the city’s largest, was situated on government land. It was gradually occupied over years and used to provide housing to low-income groups.
MP Elias said the government and various NGOs have been providing food and other necessities for a week.
Regarding their housing, he said the city corporation and the Deputy Commissioner’s Office have assured them of restoring their homes.
He also said: “The slums will be rebuilt with proper roads so the fire service and other emergency services have access.”
However, he did not specify how and when it might be done.
Over a crore raised through extortion
The slum’s 5,000 makeshift houses were built on illegally occupied government land.
A resident on anonymity said more houses were built by illegally filling up the lake. As the number of residents rose, so did the extortion. The rent, illegal gas, power, and water bills, and drug trade lined the pockets of the racket operating under political influence.
Several victims claimed that the extortion raised over one crore Taka per month. They also claimed the racket controlling the slum was led by Nure Alam, general secretary of Rupnagar Awami League, Awami League activist Kabir Ahmed, Ward no 6 Jubo League leader Dulal Hossain, Jubo League activists Iqbal Hossain, Jahangir Hossain, Mohammad Hanif, Nurul Islam, Ansar Mia, Mohammad Dilu, Tushar and Chhatra League activist Mithu.
Dulal and Rahim controlled the gas and electricity business in the slum. Tushar, Helal Uddin, Khalilur Rahman, Hanif, Nurul Islam, Masud,and Rubel used to collect the electricity bills.
The victims alleged that all of them were affiliated with MP Elias and Ward no 7 Councillor Hazi Md Razzab Hossain.
Both told Dhaka Tribune that the claims are baseless propaganda against them. They also claimed to be unaware of illegal gas lines in the slum.
“None of the people providing illegal gas work for me,” claimed the local lawmaker.