A Clique comprising ruling party leaders, law enforcers and city corporation officials is making crores of taka by allowing thousands of illegal hawkers on footpaths and a huge number of unauthorised rickshaws to operate on roads in the capital.
People knowledgeable about the practices said that specific syndicates were collecting monthly at least Tk 100 crore from the vendors and Tk 12 crore from the illegal rickshaws allowing them to operate without interruption.
Transport sector experts said that the hawkers and illegal rickshaws were two major causes of traffic congestions in Dhaka, a densely populated capital of 306.4-square kilometre area having about 1.8 crore population.
Vendors and local people said that some hawker organisation leaders collected the money and distributed it among police officials, local-level leaders of ruling Awami League, Juba League, Hawkers League and local ward councillors.
Bangladesh Hawkers League and Bangladesh Hawkers Federation president MA Kashem denied the allegation of extortion against him but admitted that extortion was going on mainly under the blessings of the local police.
Abul Hasan, a cloth shop owner at Pir Yemini Market in Gulistan area, said that the number of hawkers was increasing gradually as the city corporation remained indifferent.
Dhaka South City Corporation and Dhaka North City Corporation repeatedly conducted drives to evict the hawkers from the footpaths and other forbidden areas but they returned to the spaces within hours.
Shah Alam, a fruit vendor near Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, said that the eviction drives rather contributed to increase in the toll amounts and rendered goods and articles of hawkers damaged but did nothing more.
Hawker leaders estimate that there are some two lakh vendors doing business on the capital’s sidewalks and
streets who sell, from dawn to dusk and beyond, electronic, cosmetic and clothing items to vegetables and fruits and many other articles.
Each hawker has to pay Tk 50 to 500 in toll daily to the ‘designated linemen’ who then reach the shares of the money to police, ruling party leaders and city corporation officials.
‘I suspect that more than Tk100 crore is collected monthly from the hawkers as extortion,’ said Kashem.
For example, DSCC ward-9 concillor AKM Mominul Haque Sayeed and ward-10 councillor Maruf Ahmed Monsur are involved in extortion in Motijheel area, ward-20 councillor Farid Uddin Ahmmed Ratan and ward-13 councillor Mostafa Zaman Popy in Paltan area, among others.
The councillors are also local leaders of the ruling Awami League or its youth organisation Juba League, who also collect toll from casino, cable tv and internet service providers and waste collectors.
DSCC ward-48 councillor, and also general secretary of the ward AL, Abul Kalam denied the allegation against him and said that some councillors might do it to meet the demands from people engaged in different social welfare activities.
He said that mainly local political and social organisations collected toll from the hawkers in Jatrabari area ‘for meeting their expenses’ as the hawkers illegally grabbed the footpaths.
Over the last 10 years the government took a number of initiatives to free the footpaths of the hawkers and conducted several hundred drives for this purpose but the number of hawkers was increasing gradually, on the contrary, said residents.
The city corporation has built at least 13 markets for rehabilitating hawkers in last 30 years but most of the shops in these markets were allotted to people other than genuine hawkers, according to hawker leaders.
Bangladesh Hawkers Union president Abul Hasem Kabir said that the government could rehabilitate all the hawkers if they took pragmatic actions.
He suggested that the city corporation could collect charges from the hawkers after providing them with identity cards.
DSCC made a list of hawkers doing business in Gulistan, Motijheel, Shahbag and New Market areas and undertook a rehabilitation programme for them at a cost of Tk 10 crore and started 21 holiday markets.
Both the markets and holiday markets have failed.
Immediate past DSCC chief executive officer said that hawker rehabilitation was a very complex issue, adding that it was not possible for the corporation to solve it in a short time as their number was on the rise.
‘We are continuing eviction drives against the illegal grabbers of footpaths,’ he said.
People involved in the sector said that some 10-12 lakh illegal rickshaws having no valid documents from the authorities concerned hit the streets daily, immensely contributing to the chronic traffic congestion in the city.
They said that the syndicates collected at least Tk 12 crore per month from the owners of illegal rickshaws in exchange for allowing them on roads.
According to them, they charge Tk 12,000 to Tk 15,000 from each of them for a number plate and Tk 100 per month as renewal fee.
Any rickshaw having no number plate provided by such a syndicate is likely to be stolen and is compelled to pay the money, after which the rickshaw runs on the streets without any hassle.
If ever a rickshaw goes missing, the relevant syndicate stands responsible for ensuring that its owner get the rickshaw back, they say, adding that every rickshaw has a phone number written on its back.
The perpetrator contacts the owner using the number and seeks an amount for returning the stolen rickshaw. The syndicate then mediates between them, pocketing a share of the money thus extorted.
Jatiya Rickshaw Van Sramik League general secretary Md Insur Ali said that they sought licences for rickshaws from the city corporation time and again but the corporation said that they would not give any more licences.
‘This is why we are operating rickshaws without licences. A case in this regard is pending with the court,’ he said.
Bangladesh Rickshaw o Van Malik Federation general secretary RA Zaman, also joint secretary of the Sarak Paribahan Sramik League, said that they issued number plates to at least 2.5 lakh rickshaws over the years.
He claimed that the city corporation empowered them to issue registration certificates and number plates as the local government agency was not issuing licences.
City corporation officials, however, trashed the claim, saying that they did not authorise anybody to issue such papers.
They said that they could not stop the movement of the illegal rickshaws on the road as the police did not help them.
Dhaka South City Corporation chief revenue officer Yusuf Ali Sarder said that they suspended issuing rickshaw licences in 1988 as per a decision of the local government ministry.
Till that time the undivided city corporation had provided licences to 79,554 rickshaws and 7,807 rickshaw-vans.
DSCC in 2015 renewed 52,712 licences for five years, which expired on June 30 last.
There are at least 20 federations and unions of rickshaw owners which are involved in extortion from the rickshaw pullers.
They include Bangladesh Rickshaw o Van Malik Federation, Jatiya Rickshaw Van Sramik League o Bangladesh Rickshaw Malik League, Bangladesh Muktijoddha Samannay Parishad, Dhaka City Muktijoddha Rickshaw-Van Malik Kalyan Society, Bangladesh Muktijoddha Rickshaw Unnayan Society, Dhaka Zila Awami Rickshaw o Van Malik Samannay Parishad and Dhaka Bibhag Rickshaw o Van Malik Samity.
Dhaka metropolitan traffic police additional commissioner Mofiz Uddin Ahmed said that they could not take actions against the illegal rickshaws as no law supported it.
He, however, denied the allegation that police personnel were involved in extorting money from the hawkers and illegal rickshaws, saying that they conducted drives against the hawkers and illegal rickshaws but failed to stop them.
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