GOVERNMENT efforts to contain extortion seem to have failed as certain quarters are reported to be extorting at least Tk 100 crore a month from hawkers on the footpath and about Tk 12 crore a month from illegal rickshaws in the capital city. Each hawker is reported to be paying Tk 50–500 a day in extortion to ‘designated linesmen’ who are said to be sharing the money with the police, political leaders and city corporation officials. There are some 10–12 lakh illegal rickshaws that pay the extortion money. Urban planners and passenger welfare activists say that the hawkers and rickshaw pullers are two major causes of traffic congestion in Dhaka. Hawkers say that occasional drives to evict them from the footpath are just a ploy to increase the amount of the daily extortion amount; it is never meant to resolve the problem. The suspension of the issuance and renewal of licences to rickshaws too has failed to make an impact. It has, rather, created a scope for extortionists to make money out of illegal rickshaws. No rehabilitation plans for the pullers and hawkers are to succeed unless steps are taken against the police, political leaders and city officials involved in the process.
Both the city authorities of Dhaka have conducted repeated drives to evict hawkers from the footpath but they immediately return to the footpath under the patronage of the police and political leaders. Some councillors, local leaders of the ruling Awami League or its fronts brush aside the allegations, but others, however, say that money may have been collected for the supposed ‘social welfare activities.’ In the past three decades, at least 13 markets have been erected for the rehabilitation of hawkers, but shops in the markets have been allotted to people other than genuine hawkers. As city authorities stopped issuing licences, the Bangladesh Rickshaw and Van Owners’ Federation has issued number plates to at least 2.5 lakh rickshaws over the years. Such unauthorised groups charge between Tk 12,000 and Tk 15,000 for a number plate and Tk 100 in monthly renewal fees. The city corporation officials have denied empowering anyone with the title to issue licences for rickshaw and blamed the law enforcement agencies for their failure to stop illegal rickshaws plying the road. Urban planners and passengers rights activists find the decision to stop issuing licences faulty and myopic. They suggest a rather regulated movement of rickshaws in the city that would allow short-distance trips on inner roads. Licence issuance by appropriate authorities will also allow the city authorities to earn revenue instead of leaving it all at the hands of extortionists.
It is evident that any systematic attempt at streamlining the movement of rickshaws, governing hawkers and rehabilitating them is stifled by extortion groups composed of the police, political leaders and officials of city authorities. Without drives against extortion and stern action against the vested interests, rickshaw pullers and hawkers will continue to be exploited. It is time the government put an end to everyday extortion in the capital city.
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