The fire that broke out at a slum at Mirpur in the capital city on Friday, leaving all belongings of more than 10,000 families burnt, brings to the fore the issue of safe housing for the poor and marginalised sections of society. This fire rendered over 30,000 people homeless overnight, according to officials and residents. The dwellers of the slum on 20 acres are mostly apparel workers, domestic helps, rickshaw pullers and day labourers. The fire service and civil defence says that a three-member committee had been formed to establish the cause and estimate the damage in monetary terms in 15 working days. People said that local ruling party leaders and activists used to control the slum. There is still no indication of how the government has planned to rehabilitate these slum dwellers. In view of previous such fires, it seems that the hapless lot will soon be on their own in their struggle to start life afresh.
Successive governments have talked of low-cost housing for low-income and poor people. Such talks have, however, remained rhetorical. As such, streams of people migrating from rural areas to the capital city looking for livelihood invariably end up in slums that are built illegally on government land without civic amenities. Congested as they are, slums are susceptible to fire from either electric short-circuit or stoves, resulting in the loss of lives. Slum fire has become a regular phenomenon these days and does not seem to perturb anyone other than those affected by such devastation. Slum dwellers, on the other hand, seem to have resigned to such setbacks as their fate. Allegations are there that some individuals and groups, generally having links to the ruling party, sometimes orchestrate slum fires to establish control over government land and to turn the land into commercial space by evicting slum dwellers. Like all other slum dwellers, the people who lived in this slum so did as they had no other options.
In any case, the government must immediately establish the reason for the fire in the slum at hand ordering a competent and credible investigation so that steps could be taken to stop the recurrence of such fire and ensure adequate compensation for the victims. As the manager of the state, the government is constitutionally ordained to ensure basic needs for all its citizens, irrespective of rank, economic status, creed, religion, etc. The conscious sections of society, therefore, must also rally for the rights of these people and mount pressure on the government so that it chalks up and implements a comprehensive strategy on low-cost and safe housing for the poor and marginalised people.
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