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Coronavirus: Rights groups call for waiving slum rent

  • Published at 10:55 pm April 8th, 2020
Mahmud Hossain Opu
File photo: Korail, the largest slum in Dhaka, sitting on a 150-acre land belonging to Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited, has been home to several thousand poor people since 1956 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Local MPs, ward councillors, and local administration need to jointly ensure that slum owners will not put pressure on the poor residents for rent money

Human rights group activists and slum leaders have demanded waiver of rent for slum dwellers as most of them have become jobless due to the nationwide shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic. 

Slum-dwellers, worried for their survival, said they live hand to mouth and currently do not have jobs to support their families during the public holiday, reports UNB.

On March 23, the government declared public holiday from March 26 until April 4 and later extended it to April 9 at first and later to April 14. 

The government asked people to stay indoors and maintain social distancing during this period to fight off the virus.

Around 3.5-4 million low-income people live in 3,500-4,000 slums in the capital. 

One-third of the slum dwellers are rickshaw-pullers and the rest are day-labourers, housemaids, vegetable vendors, transport drivers, and their assistants, said Abul Kashem, joint secretary of Nagar Dariddra Bostibashi Unnyan Sangstha (NDBUS). 

He demanded waiver of rent till the coronavirus situation improves. 

Kashem suggested local MPs, ward councillors, and local administration need to jointly ensure that slum owners will not put pressure on the poor residents for money. 

NDBUS Joint Secretary Hannan Akand said the transport shutdown has put low-income people, particularly rickshaw-pullers and day-labourers, out of jobs. 

He urged the slum owners to waive the monthly rent considering the current situation. 

"Owners, who've built slums on their own land, may waive full rent. On the other hand, owners who've built small slums on government land may consider waiving at least half of the rent," he said.

Hosne Ara Begum, president of Bastibasi Adhikar Surakkha Committee (BOSC), agreed and said: "They're finding it difficult to earn a living. How can they pay rent in this situation? The government should urge slum owners to waive monthly rent," she said. 

 Fatema Akhter, chairperson of Trinomool Jatiya Federation, said slums owners should make the move on humanitarian ground. 

Owners of small slums can waive half of the rent but they must receive the amount later when the situation improves, she added.

 Ful Banu, 21, a dweller of Comilla slum in Agargaon, said her husband is a rickshaw-puller but now he is jobless as there is no passenger. They are yet to get any relief rations, she said. 

"We're worried about paying the rent of Tk5,000," she said, requesting the government to help them survive. 

Another resident of the slum, 20-year-old Moushomi, said the authorities concerned should pay attention to their plight and waive monthly rent until the situation improves. 

Meanwhile, the death toll from coronavirus has reached 20 in Bangladesh. So far, the country has confirmed 218 cases - 54 of them in the last 24 hours.

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