All the material belongings of over 10,000 families who live at Chalantika Mor Slum, Mirpur in the capital was burned to ashes on Friday night by a devastating fire that was caused to evict the occupants alleged the dwellers to evict them from government land.
He fire rendered over 30,000 people homeless overnight, according to officials and residents in one of the capital’s oldest slums.
Having escaped death with only the attires they were wearing, the victims demanded compensations from the government.
Domestic worker Nargis Begum, 50, who has been living in the slum for 30 years, told new Age, ‘I never saw such devastating fire in my life.’
She said that she was in the room with her husband Monir Hossain, two sons, Jonny, a class ten student and Rony, a class one student, when the fire broke out at 7.15PM.
Almost suddenly the fire engulfed the whole slum,’ lamented Nargis on Saturday morning while looking for some coins under what became the debris of her tin shed shelter.
She said that she could not save anything just like her neighbours.
The occupants of the slum on a 20-acre lake are mostly apparel workers, domestic helps, rickshaw pullers and day labourers, used to pay monthly rental ranging between Tk 1,500 and Tk 3,000 for each 12 square feet room.
The slum people were already victims of erosion and floods in the coastal districts under the spell of climate change.
Fire service and civil defence acting director general Md Habibur Rahman told New Age that a three-member probe committee led by s deputy director Abul Hossain had been formed to find the cause and estimate the damage in money terms in 15 working days.
Asked about the allegation of sabotage he said that the probe would make it clear.
National Housing Authority sub-divisional engineer Md Nizamul Hoque Mazumder said that NHA acquired the land in 1973 and since then it was illegally occupied by local musclemen.
The victims said that the government provided them nothing though they had been hungry since the last night.
The slum dwellers were seen crying looking at their burned shelters when local social clubs and individuals came with khichury and dry foods and used clothes.
River erosion victim Nargis of Bhola said that her three relatives lost everything in the fire that broke out in the slum when most of occupants were yet to return after celebrating Eid.
Garment worker Marzana Akter, who lived in the slum for 12 years said that she saw that fire broke out on the north-eastern corner of the slum and spread quickly before the fire fighters could arrive.
Mother of two kids Marzana said that during Ramadan local people told her that the slum would be evicted soon but she did not take any preparation as her house owner asked her to ‘keep mum’.
‘The fire was a deliberate act to evict poor people from the government land,’ she said.
She said that local musclemen built and rented out the makeshift shelters with illegal gas, electricity and water supply.
Nasima Khatun, 35, living in the slum for eight years said that house owners assured them that the slum would never be demolished by the AL government.
Local people said that local ruling party leaders and activists including Hanif Miah, Nurul Islam, Ansar Miah, Dulal, Dilu, Tushar and Tayob Ali used to control the slum.
They said all of them were close to either the local MP Elious Mollah or local ward no-6 councillor Rajjab Hossain.
Ruling Awami League’s rebel candidate in election Rajjab Hossain said that the incident was not sabotage rather an accident because the government has no plan to evict the slum.
He admitted that there were illegal gas and electricity lines across the slum but he denied her involvement with the extortion over utility services.
Class two student of Tamirul Islam Madrasa Abu Horaira Rafin was searching for his books under the ashes as his father Abdus Salam was busy collecting burned tins and belongings on the southern part of the slum.
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