The Chittagong City Corporation took Tk 10,000 each from 33 families of a landslide-prone slum five years ago promising to relocate them to an apartment building.
The construction of the seven-storey building was completed in 2016, but the flats have yet to be handed over to the families. Instead, the city corporation now wants to move its office to the block.
The building in the port city's Tigerpass area is part of a rehabilitation scheme recommended by experts after a massive landslide claimed at least 127 lives in Lalkhanbazar area in 2007.
“As promised, we will accommodate them in the flat block. It will take a while as our existing office is going through some renovation. We will shift our office there but this is for the time being. When the renovation is over, we will hand them their flats,” said CCC Mayor AJM Nasir Uddin.
To avoid deaths and damages caused by landslides, experts opined the lower-income group residing at the foot of hill should be moved to safer places.
In the face of pressure from civic bodies, the then mayor Manjur Alam decided to evict the dwellers of Bottol slum of Tiger Pass, and the construction of the apartment building began in 2013.
Assured of safe accommodation, the families were evicted from the slum which would be around 50 years old.
But Mayor Nasir, who assumed office in 2015, has a “different plan” about the flat block, alleged the people when this correspondent visited the place.
Widowed and visually impaired Morjina Akther, one of the slum dwellers of Bottol, said she doesn't know what to say when the CCC betrays people like them.
“We are needy in every sense. Year after year, we have been looking for a safe accommodation. That's why we all let them evict us. But we are left in the lurch as CCC temporises to allocate the flats.”
Saheda Begum is another widow who went through much hardship to manage Tk 10,000. “Now we are facing uncertainty as the CCC mulls shifting their office to the flat block,” she said.
Ramjan Ali, who is among those to pay for the flats, said they contacted the authorities concerned several times but only in vain.
“The city corporation evicted us from the slum in 2013 saying they will rehabilitate us. We deposited the token money through a pay order with the account of the city corporation at the Janata Bank.”
He alleged: “Every time we meet the mayor or deputy commissioner of Chittagong, we are assured of the flat handover. But these are only words. Practically they are buying time.”
Monjurul Alam Chowdhury, the contractor, said the construction was completed in 2016 and currently they are putting the final touches. “The city corporation has yet to take possession of the building,” he added.
Contacted, former mayor Manjur Alam said there were many government organisations in the port city but only the CCC came forward with humanitarian response and decided to construct the flat block after the devastating landslide in 2007.
“We took an initiative to build the flat block on a 24-decimal land. The families agreed to pay Tk 10,000 each as token money. We designed the scheme in such a way that they can pay Tk 2,500 in monthly instalment over 15 years,” said the then mayor.
Talking to The Daily Star recently, Manjur said all the families paid Tk 10,000 each in 2013. “I had the construction work almost completed but could not hand over the flats to them as my tenure ended,” he laments.
Evicted, the slum dwellers are now living in makeshift shanties near the flat block in the hope of moving there.
Nasir said the former mayor should not have taken such an initiative as it is not CCC's duty to provide accommodation to the city people. There are government organisations which are tasked with the job.
“There are more than a million slum dwellers in the port city. How many people would I be able to accommodate?” he questioned.