The Mirpur slum that was razed by a deadly fire on Friday night, was set up illegally on lands of the National Housing Authority (NHA) by ruling Awami League men.
There were illegal power, water, and gas connections in almost all the shanties there. The drug trade was in full swing too. Fifty leaders and activists of the local Awami League and its youth front Jubo League controlled these illegal businesses, slum dwellers said.
According to them, associates of Haji Rajjab Hossain, councillor of Dhaka (North) ward No. 6 and president of Rupnagar thana Awami League, earned over Tk 3 million per month from the slum.
Rajjab Hossain, however, denied the claims to Prothom Alo saying, "They're not my men, they are new Awami Leaguers."
At least 8,000 houses of the slum were gutted in the fire leaving three wounded. The fire department has formed a three-member committee to investigate the fire.
The slum was set up around eight feet below the road level, behind the Rupnagar police station and was surrounded by multi-storey buildings. About 8,000 houses including two-storey tin-shed houses were built on bamboo, wood and tin structures over the water. All these were gutted in the fire.
Housemaids, readymade garments workers, rickshaw pullers and day labourers among others lived here.
According to the residents of the slum, plastic pipes were used to supply gas to the slum. The fire originated from a house on the southern side of the slum on Friday. The gas pipe cracked, and the leak caused the fire to spread further.
Most of the residents were visiting their village homes over Eid when the fire broke out.
The National Housing Authority said they acquired 20 acres of land behind the Rupnagar police station in 1973. The locals were dumping garbage into the lake there and it was eventually filled up. Later the makeshift homes with wooden frames were built on the landfill and by 2000 the entire lake was filled and the slum was set up.
According to the locals, the initial slum residents later began renting out the shanties there. A number of leaders from Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its youth front Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal controlled the slum, then. After Awami League came to the power, the local leaders of Awami League and Jubo League built houses and rented these out. They also provided illegal water, gas and power connections to the houses and earned Tk 4,000 in total per household including the rent.
At least 50 people including Dulal Hossain, Hanif, Nurul Islam, Ansar Miah, Mohammad Dilu, Taiyeb Ali, Helal Uddin, Khalilur Rahman were involved in this business, said the locals.
All of them are involved with the politics of ruling Awami League and Jubo League, they added saying that they are Rajjab Hossain's associates.
President of ward Awami League at ward No. 92, Harun Ar Rashid told Prothom Alo that they were not Awami League men but earlier used to be involved with Jubo Dal, youth front of BNP, and are involved with Jubo League, youth front of ruling Awami League.
A slum dweller on condition of anonymity said the slum was a hub of narcotics.
"Drug trade is common in slums," said Mushtaq Ahmed, deputy commissioner of police at Mirpur zone, adding that the police were actively dealing with the matter.
The local member of the parliament, Elias Uddin Mollah, told Prothom Alo, "Last year I conducted an anti-drug drive at the Jhilpar Slum and the drug trade came to an end. The power connections to the slum were legal but I don't know about the gas connections."
Hajera Begum used to live at the Jhilpar Slum. She said she had been there from 35 years ago. She built three more shanties later and rented them out. At first there were no utility services but later a good number of local Awami League and Jubo League leaders including Dulal provided these connections.
She said she paid Tk 2,000 for the connections per month.
Another slum dweller Abdul Malek said he had three shanties at the slum. He stayed in one and had given two on rent. He claimed that his water connection was legal while he paid Dulal Tk 2,000 per month for power and gas.
Several other slum dwellers named several local Awami League leaders including Hanif, Nurul Islam, Ansar Mia, Dilu, Taiyeb Ali, Khalilur Rahman as house owners in the slum.
They said the ruling party men collected money each month either by themselves or through their associates.