Leaders of organisations, working for rights of low-income people, demanded waiver of rent for slum dwellers as they have become jobless due to nationwide shutdown aimed curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Slum dwellers said they live hand to mouth and currently do not have jobs to feed their families during the government-announced general holidays. They said they were worried about their survival.
On March 23, the government declared general holidays from March 26 until April 4. The holidays were later extended to April 14 in two phases. The government asked people to stay indoors and maintain social distancing during this period.
Around 3.5-4 million low-income people live in 3,500-4,000 slums in the capital. One third of the slum dwellers are rickshaw-pullers and many of the rest work as day-labourers, housemaids, van-pullers, vegetable vendors, transport drivers and helpers, said Abul Kashem, joint secretary of Nagar Dariddra Bostibasi Unnyan Sangstha (NDBUS).
He demanded waiver of rent till the coronavirus situation improves. Kashem suggested local MPs, ward councillors and local administration jointly ensure that slum owners will not put pressure on the poor residents for money.
Hannan Akand, joint secretary of NDBUS, said the shutdown of transport has put low-income people, particularly rickshaw-pullers and day-labourers, out of jobs.
He urged the slum owners to waive the monthly rent considering the current situation. “Owners, who’ve built slums on their own land, may waive full rent. On the other hand, owners who’ve built small slums on government land may consider waver of at least half of the rent,” he said.
Hosne Ara Begum, president of Bastibasi Adhikar Surakkha Committee (BOSC), agreed. “They’re finding it very hard to earn a living. How can they pay rent in this situation? The government should urge slum owners to waive monthly rent,” she said.
Fatema Akhter, chairperson of Trinomool Jatiya Federation, said slums owners should make the move on humanitarian ground. Owners of small slums can waive half of the rent but they must receive the amount later when the situation improves, she added.
Ful Banu, 21, a dweller of Comilla slum in Agargaon, said her husband is a rickshaw-puller but now he is jobless as there is no passenger. They are yet to get any relief materials, she said.
“We’re worried about paying the rent of Tk 5,000,” she said, requesting the government to help them survive.
Another resident of the slum, 20-year-old Moushomi, said the authorities concerned should pay attention to their plight and waive monthly rent until the situation improves.
Meanwhile, the death toll from coronavirus has reached 20 in Bangladesh. So far, the country has confirmed 2018 cases – 54 of them in the last 24 hours.