Korail fire: An act of extremism?

Afsan Chowdhury
Thursday, December 8th, 2016


No matter which word was is used the Government is pitted against the poor in case of  Korail.  The people who live there are desperately poor whose vulnerability was exposed even further when a fire swirled around and torched over 500 homes. None died but that is no consolation for an event that has shown how quickly we learn to think that the poor is dispensable. Located next to Gulshan, the richest part of town, it’s one of the poorest congregation in the city and the fire on  Sunday showed what the poor have to  go through just to survive in a cruel town.


The Government seems to think that it’s their holy duty to evict Korail slum and almost certainly this will happen. The area has been earmarked for a fancy IT park and when the buzzword is uttered, all other priorities disappear. It’s a big need no doubt as the total digital goof up of the Bangladesh Bank heist and the Philippines tummy trouble shows. As many have said, we may have digitized quicker than our capacity and we do need some planning to ensure our computers and our brain is in the same century before we venture further.


However, we seem to be in a desperate rush to get rid of  Korail largely because the reason it was set up  is over.  Korail provided cheap labour to Gulshan and adjacent area homes as well as rmg factories. Now that rmg factories are being planned to be shifted to elsewhere Korail slum has no purpose to go on living. With land prices so high, the logic of real estate market comes in as well. It’s ideally suited to host a variety of high rises.


To top it all, the security machinery is absolutely convinced that Korail is a national security threat. So to protect Gulshan, we see the clownish attempts to secure the wealthiest part of town by stopping ferry boats from the slum and even chopping up makeshift rafts fashioned by the slum dwellers after that. So a final solution has to be made and that means eviction, by fair means or foul.


Which of course is inevitable but a growing poor urban population with a disinterested ruling elite has the makings of a disaster. There is no fear of conflict as the poor are too stifled and meek but the outrage perpetrated against the poor is a mark on the nature of the evolving state. Reports say that the land use plan has no accommodation for the poor. Dhaka Courier spoke to Dr Ishrat Islam, who was part of the 13-member technical working group tasked with examining the plans drawn up in the Detailed Area Plan (DAP) for Dhaka City, a crucial component of the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan (DMDP), before it was gazetted. The DAP is said to provide a ‘detailed land use plan’ for each area of Dhaka city by giving specific outlines of the areas in terms of usage. For example, under the DAP, which was gazetted in July 2010, nearly 65,000 acres in the capital, or 19.76 percent of the total area, has been earmarked for urban residential use. However, it reportedly includes no plan to accommodate the poor in low-cost housing.


“Actually, this is an issue that was raised by some of us during the approval process, that the issue of low-cost housing for the poor is not addressed in the DAP. Rajuk should look into it,” Dr Islam told Dhaka Courier.


Given that the above is true we are no longer talking about housing difficulties and land use but a deliberate policy decision to exclude the poor from citizenship rights. And the process and methods are no different from any other form of extremism. It has become ideologically sourced and town planning has become a tool for socio-economic apartheid.


If the authorities have decided that they no longer are responsible for housing the poor in the city and ensuring their livelihood, the issue becomes political in nature. And it fits in better with many other aspects of the law and order management that we see in place. Thus exclusion of the poor and even the middle from civic amenities is in concurrence with the nature of the governance machinery in place at the moment.  Very crudely put, this is how the “crossfire” concept would act in civilian governance term.  It occurs when the system can no longer function and deliver so extremism is the only option left.


Just as crossfire has been normalized and there is no challenge of it and most look upon it as relief from criminals since the law and order system can’t handle criminals anymore, it basically points to the weakness of the state system itself.  The problem is that, in that equation, it’s not just the poor who are victimized but the rich are not safe either. If no boundaries and parameters exist, the game is gone. And in that space the rules of conduct even for the elite no longer apply.


Since the poor are not playing there the essence of events become the matter of conflict among the rich and the powerful.  Have all the wealthy classes been accommodated? Have they been rewarded as per the levels of their power?  Increasingly the ideological construct becomes vulnerable due to lack of pluralism. And all ideological beings comes with expiry dates.


If the present trend continues, it’s not the poor who only should feel threatened but the privileged because as contemporary history shows, its only pluralism that survives and extremism has not, whether political or economic.

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