The inhabitants of Chalantika and Rupnagar slums in the capital's Mirpur have claimed that repeated fires in the shanties are a conspiracy to evict them from the land, which has been allotted for a housing project for lower and middle income people.
Talking to The Business Standard, at least 30 shanty dwellers affected by the fire expressed their fear that once they were driven out from the area, they would not be able to get flats in the housing project.
After the latest fire in the slums on Wednesday, a picture making the rounds on Facebook shows a signboard next to the burning shanties stating, "Designated site for the flat project for the rehabilitation of the lower and middle class on the property of the National Housing Authority."
Earlier,in August last year and January this year, devastating fires broke out twice in Rupnagar slum adjacent to Mirpur-7 section of the Chantilika slum.
Md Hanif, a resident of Chalantika, said after the shanties were gutted in a fire in August last year, the housing and public works ministry launched a building project to accommodate middle and lower-income people on the spot.
"After the ministry announced the project, we filed a writ petition with the High Court. A total of 126 people, including 36 freedom fighters, have signed the petition," Hanif added.
"In the writ petition we asked if the displaced slum dwellers would be rehabilitated in the new buildings," said Hanif.
"If slum dwellers have to leave the place permanently, we wouldn't tolerate it. If they can stay in the new building, then we have no objection," he added.
Meanwhile, talking to reporters at the spot, the local Member of Parliament, Md Elias Uddin Mollah, said he did not know who would get those proposed flats.
"All I know is that the people affected by the fire will be sheltered in a school nearby. We have managed food and shelter for them on a temporary basis. But I do not know what will next happen to them," the lawmaker added.
Elias Uddin Mollah denied that the slums had been put to the torch deliberately to clear the slum area for ongoing housing projects.
"These allegations are totally bogus.They (slum dwellers) use illegal and risky gas and electricity lines. And ironically now they blame others (politicians)," the MP said.
Josna Begum, a slum dweller said, "My parents came here around thirty years ago, before I was born. Five shanties in my possession and another 10 in my mother's possession have been gutted in the fire."
"Frequent incidents of fire in Chalantika slum raise suspicions. Just around seven months ago another devastating fire also gutted around a thousand shanties," she added.
She sought an impartial investigation to unearth the reason behind the repeated fires in the same area.
Sharif Ahmed, the state minister for housing and public works, could not be reached for comment as he did not pick up the phone.
Bijoy Krishna, member (planning) of the National Housing Authority (NHA), told The Business Standard that the housing project at Chalantika was now in its preliminary stage.
"The implementation of the project is yet to start. The flats in the project will be in three categories: 800sqft, 1,350sqft and 1,550sqft."
"The slum dwellers were also included in the project plan. Although they will not be able to buy those flats, they can rent a number of these flats directly from the NHA,"he added.
"These flats will be allotted to lower and lower middle-income people, businessmen and other service holders. The slum dwellers can buy or rent flats in another project in Mirpur's Bauniabadh area," the planning member added.