At least 30 people, including a member of Bangladesh Ansar, were injured when police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters during an eviction drive at Salimpur slums in Sitakunda upazila of Chattogram on Thursday.
Police, however, did not confirm the number of injured persons in the clash but the slum-dwellers claimed that 30 men and women have been injured and some of whom are undergoing treatment at Chattogram Medical College and Hospital (CMCH).
Locals in Salimpur also claimed that the district administration cut the power connection in the area on Thursday morning, prior to launching the raid.
According to police sources, a clash broke out between the slum-dwellers and the police when a team of the Chattogram district administration, led by magistrate Tauhidul Islam, carried out the drive in Salimpur's Chinnomul slums around 11 am.
The district administration has been conducting eviction drives in Salimpur's Chinnomul and Ali Nagar slums since August to evict illegal occupants.
Sitakunda Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Shahadat Hossain and Assistant Commissioner (Land) Ashraful Alam were also present during Thursday's raid, powered by some 200 members of the Bangladesh Police and Ansar.
"When the law enforcers started to demolish some houses and shops, the occupants of Chinnomul obstructed the drive and retaliated by hurling brick and stone chips at them," said Chattogram Superintendent of Police SM Shafiullah.
"The police fired rubber bullets in self-defence. None of us got hurt. But we don't know how many slum dwellers have been injured," he added.
Of the injured persons, six were admitted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH).
They are Md Ali Raj Hassan Sagar, 26, Bablu Mondal, 28, Amina Begum, 35, Amena Begum, 50, Mohammad Parvez, 27 and Mohammad Rasul, 20.
Among them, Bablu is an Ansar member and the rest are slum-dwellers.
CMCH Director Brig Gen Md Shamim Ahsan told The Business Standard, "Of the six injured persons, three sustained injuries to their eyes, one to the leg and another one to the back with bullet fragments. Besides, another person's arm was broken."
"So far, everyone is safe. However, the status of those who have suffered eye injuries can be told after the necessary tests," the CMCH director added.
Md Ali Raj Hassan Sagar, who is undergoing treatment at CMCH, said, "The administration started evicting residents without any initiative for resettlement. When we tried to defend our settlement, police opened fire on us."
Sagar's mother Noor Nahar, a sexagenarian, told TBS, "I have been living here for 25-26 years. Why will we be evicted? I am a widow. My son Sagor works at a garment factory. He sustained severe injuries during the clash. When his friends came forward to take him to the hospital, police detained six of them. If he dies, what will happen to me?"
Another injured Amena Begum told TBS, "My parents live in Ali Nagar in the jungle of Salimpur. When I went to visit them in the morning, there was a clash over slum eviction. As I was looking for my father amid chaos, I got shot in my eyes and head with rubber bullets."
How the settlements came into being
Thousands of homeless people in Chattogram and nearby districts, who were forcibly displaced due to various reasons related to climate change, have been making settlements in the abandoned forests of Salimpur since 1990. This area is located just outside the Chattogram City Corporation.
In the past, thousands of displaced people have been evicted from at least 20 slums including Dewanhat slum, Batali Hill, Motijharna, Dhebar Par slum, Barishal slum, Laldiar Char, Noman slum in Chattogram city. Chinnomul and Ali Nagar became the address of these evicted people as well.
Apart from various coastal upazilas of Chattogram, climate refugees and low-income people from Cox's Bazar, Barishal, Bhola, Noakhali, and Cumilla also settled in the area.
About 70% of the slum dwellers of Chattogram lost their habitats due to climate change, said Reza Kaiser, former chief urban planner of Chittagong City Corporation. They are all low-income people, mostly garment workers, rickshaw pullers and day labourers, he said.
According to Chittagong Mohanagar Chinnomul Bastibasi Samannoy Sangram Parishad, Chinnomul and Ali Nagar slums are currently home to about 24,000 families, where about 1 lakh people live. However, according to Chittagong district administration data, there were only 4,544 families in 2010.
This settlement in the jungle of Salimpur is controlled by the Samannoy Parishad, which was formed in 2004.
In the last 18 years, this organisation divided the government khas land into 11 parts and developed thousands of plots. They built roads, schools, mosques and madrasas in their own way without any government facilities.
The main road, which is about two kilometres long, has been constructed by the residents with their own funds. The residents have been using commercial transmission lines after not being able to get residential electricity connections legally.
Govt plans multiple dev projects in Salimpur
Chinnomul and Ali Nagar settlements came into the limelight last year when the Chittagong Development Authority opened a link road, which was constructed by cutting down 18 hills, with the Dhaka-Chattogram highway from Bayezid, which is located next to Chinnomul.
On 12 September, a meeting, led by the prime minister's principal secretary Ahmad Kaikaus, is scheduled to be held at the Prime Minister's Office to formulate a master plan for taking up multiple developmental projects by clearing 3,100 acres of land in Salimpur jungle.
The Chittagong district administration wants to build several government facilities, including central jail, Novo theatre, hospital, national information centre and a night safari park there.
The eviction drive began to free up space. In August, the district administration demolished nearly 200 houses of 170 low-income families in Ali Nagar near Chinnamul in nine eviction raids. At the time, the administration ordered the rest of the residents to move out of the place.