I read Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine some months ago and couldn’t get it out of my head since then. Primarily because of the realization that requiring a social/economic/political system be overhauled has to be done with force, even if that results in massive amounts of violence.
She cites the examples of Chile and Argentina in the 1950s-1970s, where two military coups removed the civilian government from power. The military government did not hesitate to then force nearly complete free-market capitalism on the people with the help of Milton Friedman following his economic ideology.
Then she goes on to describe how the tsunami in 2004 that devastated Mauritius was used to enable the capitalists to move in with promises of rebuilding the place. The place was rebuilt alright, however the locals paid a heavy price with their livelihoods getting destroyed and having to suffer major losses as a result.
Condensing the whole book into a sentence: Capitalists wait for when disaster (natural or man-made) strikes for mass confusion to set in to swoop in and start privatizing everything for personal profit.
Why am I bringing up this book? Read on.
Korail is within a stone’s throw of BRAC University and the students of architecture do a lot of design work presenting their ideas of what and/or how to improve or relocate the slum. So I had a dim awareness of there being some development interest in that place. Then I recalled having attended a seminar on how to make Dhaka a better managed city in the World Bank office sometime toward the end of 2015. I looked for any development plans for the Korail slum area.
I found that a month before the fire, Dhaka Tribune reported that eviction plans were in the works for the slum dwellers as the area was earmarked for development work3.
The slum area has suffered a number of tragedies for the last few years with two fires in 2016 itself4. The accidents simply heighten the need to move the people to a different location.
That last sentence was a feint. “The accidents simply heighten the need to move the people to a different location.” The accidents heighten the need for providing safe, low cost housing for these people; the location is rather immaterial. The usual practice in Bangladesh though is that the rich and powerful just kick the poor to the side and trample on their rights and dignity.
An article5 in the Dhaka Courier website says as much with detail.
Korail is, unfortunately for those living there, right next to the premium residential area of Dhaka, Gulshan. As such, the land price is stratospheric and there most likely are a number of developers interested in that space already. Along with that, the location has been selected to host an IT park within Dhaka. Therefore the economic incentive to force the people out, with little concern for what happens to them afterward, is very strong.
The Dhaka Courier article also speaks of there being issues with current plans for the area being pursued by the government. One of the main highlighted drawbacks was that there seemed to be no provision for low cost housing to house the poor who will be evicted from there. Sounds similar to what was done in Mauritius after the 2004 tsunami.
Will there be any provision for accommodating the poor as the Korail slum gets uprooted? Let’s wait and watch, even though history offers a rather pessimistic prognosis.