Golam Mostafa Jibon: Centering the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha, extortion from different transports especially goods and cattle laden trucks is going on indiscriminately in different roads and highways by traffic police, their recruited agents and some other parties, who introduce themselves as the members of transport workers and owners’ associations.
As a result, the prices of most essential commodities are going up daily on the excuse of high carrying costs, while the prices of sacrificial animals being transported to different destinations including Dhaka and Chattogram are apprehending to rise this time due to extra costs in transportation.
According to the sources, extortion is now going on unabated at least 100 spots of different roads and highways across the country on the tip of nose of the higher authorities. Of them, Baneshwar in Rajshahi, Bonpara and Kachhikata in Natore, Hatikumrul (Sirajganj road) and Kodda intersection in Sirajganj, Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge western side and eastern side, Alenga, Tangail intersection and Chandura on the Dhaka-Northbengal route via Sirajganj-Natore district, Highway Villa, Banani, Noymile, Ullapara, Shahzadpur, Baghabari and Pabna intersection on the Pabna-Bogura route, Signboard area, Shimrail, Kanchpur, Modonpur, Demra Staff quarter, Feni and Alangker intersection point on the Dhaka-Chattogram route are mentionable.
Transports have become the biggest extortion sector in the country. Hundreds of crores of Taka are being collected from this sector every day. Earlier, extortion used to realize after halting the vehicles on roads or highways. But now, the tactics has been changed. Now, the toll money is often deposited to the designated places or persons. The money is shared among the police personnel and differentassociation leaders.
There are allegations that police members and transport workers have formed a strong syndicate. The money game is going on centering the roads and highways with the connivance of each other. Although, the Home Minister and the IGP have shown efforts to stop extortion, the activities of the
road extortion syndicate did not stop. Drivers have to count tolls on the way. And this money is being taken from the pockets of the passengers. A large part of this is going to the hands of the syndicate regulators. Transport leaders claimed, no tollis collected by them on highways now. Extortions are collected from few places by some assigned workers for the welfare of the workers federation, they added.
Though, police claimed that they are in a tougher position to stop extortion from transports on the roads and highways, it is now open secret ahead of Eid-ul-Azha. Due to continuous toll collection from goods laden trucks, commodity prices are increasing day by day. On the other hand, extra toll is being collected by traffic police and their agents from cattle laden trucks centering the upcoming Eid.
Reliable sources said, a section of traffic police collect illegal toll from buses, trucks and other vehicles from Baneshwar point on the Dhaka-Rajshahi route. Another section of traffic police led by Lutfar Rahman, Officer-in-Charge of Hatikumrul Highway police station realize illegal toll from goods and cattle laden trucks from Hatikumrul intersection of Dhaka-Rajshahi and Pabna-Bogura route. Massive toll collection is going on from buses and trucks at Kodda intersection near by Jamuna bridge western side police station led by Traffic Inspector (TI) Salequzzaman Khan (Salek) and TI Moudud Ahmed. Assistant Traffic Sub-Inspector (ATSI) Uzzal in collaboration with some other traffic police manage and carry out toll collection activities in Sirajganj town and its domestic routes.
Toll collection from buses and trucks is going on in monthly basis led by Mosaddek Hossain, Officer-in-Charge of Jamuna Bridge western police station. They collect toll Tk 500 to Tk 1000 from each bus and Tk 500 to Tk 2000 from each goods or cattle laden truck daily. Sometime, they realize toll monthly basis, relevant people complained.
Transport workers, owners and traders said, extortion from transports has become one of the main reasons behind the rising of commodity prices along with the recent increase in fares and accidents. A bus has to pay an average of Tk 1,000 to Tk 2,200 daily to travel on the roads or highways to and from Dhaka. To realize the money, the buses are forced to make extra trips which often lead to accidents.
It is revealed that, toll money is collected in the name of transport owners and workers’associations. A large part of the moneygoes to the pocket of police administration. The feature of extortion at various transport counters, including the terminals of four inter-district and inland routes in the capital, shows that more than Tk 50 crore is collected from buses every month. On an average, about 1.75 crore is collected from these terminals every day.
As such, it is easy to imagine the dire state of the transport sector across the country. Road transport owners-workers claim that some godfathers are currently controlling the transport owners’ association. According to them, these godfathers have launched hundreds of buses on roads under the banner of their own transport company in the last few years. They have smuggled huge sums of money into various countries including Malaysia, Canada and Thailand.
According to the sources, more than 15,000 vehicles ply in the capital’s Sayedabad, Mohakhali, Gulistan, Fulbaria, Mirpur, Azimpur, Motijheel-Kamalapur and Gabtali bus terminals areas. If these vehicles get down on the road, they have to pay toll on a daily basis. In particular, in the name of Malik Samiti, one has to pay Tk 360 to Tk 980 per bus (depending on the bus company), Tk 200 for common fund and Tk 60 for Dhaka Road. Such a net of tolls has remained scattered all over the capital. Ordinary bus owners who are unsettled by extortion said that, all their incomesare being spent on extortion. So, in recent times, the transport business is no longer for the polite and honest traders. This sector has been taken over by terrorists.
Hanif Khokon, president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers League, said, “There are 250 basic unions across the country, including buses, minibuses, CNG-auto-rickshaws, trucks and human haulers. The matter of extortion is controlled mainly by the unions’ leaders and traffic police. Although, the federation has violated the labor law and issued special guidelines, they are also violating those guidelines. According to the guidelines, the owners’ association will charge Tk 50 and Tk 80, when leaving the terminal.
There are 1.1 million commercial vehicles in the country. If Tk 50 is realized from each, the amount will be Tk 5.5 crore a day.
But not in one place. a transport workeris forced to pay at least 10 points daily during his travel.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said at a meeting of the task force to strengthen discipline in the road transport sector and implement the recommendations of the committee formed to control accidents, it was decided not to levy any toll or service charge on roads without a designated terminal or place.
“We have informed the IGP that he will be in action,” he told the meeting.
Various types of taxes are also levied, including on municipalities, so that they are not levied anywhere without stands or terminals. The BRTC committee has also been asked to hold regular sittings. In practice, the implementation of this directive of the Home Minister is not seen. There is no action of the police either.
Haider Ali Khan, DIG (Operations and Media and Planning) at the police headquarters recently told the reporters, “We never allow extortion. If there is any news of illegal collection of tolls from transport, we will take immediate action.”
According to an investigation, Tk500 to Tk1000are collected from all passenger transport in the signboard, Shimrail, Kanchpur, Madanpur and Demra staff quarter area of Dhaka-Chattogram highway. There are allegations that passenger buses from Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Chattogram and Noakhali have to pay up to Tk 1,500 to Tk 2,000 per trip.
In the districts where the buses have to pass, it is also mandatory to pay Tk 1000 to Tk 2000 to the police sergeants on a monthly basis. Apart from this, the policemen of the outposts realize toll regularly.
Seeking anonymity, a reliable source said, extortion is now realizing on tokens in different parts of the Dhaka-Chattogram and Dhaka-Northbengal highways. Among them, drivers have to face police harassment in at least 50spotsin their ways including Narayanganj, Sonagaon, Comilla,Feni, Alenga, Tangail, Kodda, Hatikumrul, Bonpara, Kachhikata and Baneshwar area, if they fail to comply with token system. They harass people in the name of paper checking, even after having all appropriate papers.
The transport business is under threat. Recently, members of the traffic police in different parts of the country have also been accused of being involved in ‘extortion’. The drivers of CNG-powered auto-rickshaws in Cumillahave recently blocked the road and protested against the extortion of senior traffic police inspector Emdadul Haque. They alleged that Tk 1,200 was collected monthly from each CNG in the name of traffic police. It is learned that, more than 500 vehicles enter Cox’s Bazar daily from different parts of the country. To leave Cox’s Bazar, those vehicles have to pay Tk 50 and Tk 60 and pay up to Tk 110 in two installments. The money was taken under the leadership of Kalim Ullah Karim, executive secretary of Arakan Road Workers Union. Part of which is going to the pockets of political leaders and police officials.
The Bangladesh Truck and Covered Van Owners Association said, trucks plying on roads and highways have to pay Tk 500 to Tk2,000 at each spot. As the toll is collected by the highway police, it is also collected in the name of the owners and workers’ association. There is a group of people who extort money with the threat of vandalism if the goods truck gets stuck in a traffic jam. To come to Dhaka from Bogura, a truck has to pay at least Tk 2000 as toll. Similarly, to go from Sylhet to Dhaka, the police have to pay bribes in at least three points. Apart from this, donations have to be paid irregularly in two places.
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