Extortionists rule highwaysIqbal Mahmud and Ahmed Shatil Alam
Organised groups in name of the ruling party and transport workers’ unions as well as the police were extorting money from trucks carrying cattle on different highways and ferry terminals ahead Eid-ul-Azha, alleged trucks drivers and cattle traders.
Drivers of trucks carrying cattle alleged that they were being harassed at different points on highways and at ferry terminals by organised groups of extortionists.
Hundreds of trucks continued heading for the capital carrying sacrificial animals for the Eid-ul-Azha, to be celebrated on Wednesday.
A section of the police was either directly involved in the extortion or watching extortionists stop trucks and take money.
The police were taking money from trucks in the name of checking documents while transport workers were forcing the drivers to pay them money in the name of ‘contribution’ to ‘unions’ without receipts.
Transport workers said that they were collecting ‘Eid bonus’ or raising funds from the vehicles for their organisations.
Traders carrying cattle from Kushtia alleged that they had to pay money at ‘toll booths’ in the city cattle markets and neighbouring areas, set up illegally by transport workers’ associations.
Bangladesh Truck-Covered Van Owners’ Association general secretary Mohammad Rustam Ali alleged that almost two vehicles of every five were facing the problem.
He said trucks carrying cattle had become the prime target of police extortion before Eid-ul-Azha.
Md Asaduzzaman Mia, deputy inspector general of Bangladesh Police (highway range), however, dismissed the allegations as ‘baseless.’
Terming it ‘media hype’, he said that they were conducting inspection in plainclothes but were yet to find any truth to the allegations.
When approached, Awami League joint secretary general and spokesperson Mahbubul Alam Hanif also said that they had not received any such allegations of extortion by his party fellows.
But traders at cattle markets alleged that extortionists were active at different points on highways and ferry terminals, including Tongi bridge area, Tangail bypass, Daulatdia ferry terminal, Kaddarmore and Hatikumrul of Sirajganj, Baipail and Nabinagar in Savar, Comilla Bishwa-road, Dhamrai, Comilla Cantonment area and Laksam, on the way to Dhaka from north and southern regions.
Fazlur Rahman, a truck driver who came to Dhaka with cattle from Kushtia, said police had extorted money from him on October 3 in Tongi bridge area.
‘A police sergeant stopped the truck and asked me to show the driving licence,’ the driver said. ‘Although everything was valid, he asked for Tk 2,000, otherwise, he threatened to file a case against me.’
‘I was compelled to pay money to avoid further harassment,’ said the driver.
Cattle trader Nur-e-Alam who came to the capital’s Agargaon market with some cattle on a truck from Faridpur, told New Age, ‘The truck driver had to pay Tk 1,850 at the ferry terminal, though the toll collectors had given a token of Tk 1,160.’
The men at the toll booth took the extra money as the police stood nearby, said Alam.
The workers at toll booths were charging extra from vehicles in the name of Nurul Islam, president of Daulatdia Awami League unit and also a union council chairman.
When asked, Nurul Islam refuted the allegation as false and said, ‘My political rival is spreading the falsehood.’
New Age correspondent in Faridpur said that local miscreants and transport workers were taking a minimum Tk 100 per cattle head at Daulatdia ferry terminal.
At Kawrakandi terminal, local hoodlums in the name of labour organisations were taking at least Tk 200 from each truck, reported New Age correspondent in Madaripur.
Cattle-carrying trucks bound for south-eastern districts from Dhaka are also being stopped by police and transport workers for extortion.
Traders coming from Comilla, Noakhali, Feni and Lakshmipur alleged that they had to pay Tk 100-Tk 500 at Laksam, Comilla Cantonment and Comilla Bishwa-road area on Dhaka-Chittagong highways.
Transport sectors sources said that trucks coming from southern districts, include Kushtia, Jessore and Jhenaidah, had to pay money to different labour organisations on Dhaka-Aricha highway, particularly at Aminbazar, Nabinagar and Aricha.
When asked, superintendent of police in Comilla, Tutul Chakrabarty, Nabinagar police officer-in-charge Mohammad Farhad and Goalanda OC Abul Basar said they did not hear any such complaints.
They said they could not take action without evidence.
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