More efforts needed to stop roadside market extortion

Published: 00:00, Feb 28,2021


SYNDICATES involving ruling party activists, law enforcers and city officials are reported to have allowed unauthorised kitchen markets by city roads in exchange for money from shopkeepers. This is a case of governance failure. The syndicates collect at least Tk 50 crore each month from roughly 650 permanent and more than 2,500 makeshift illegal kitchen markets in 129 wards of Dhaka city. Shopkeepers at the markets, as New Age reported on Saturday, say that local ruling party activists collect Tk 200–300 in rent and Tk 100 more in utility charges from them every day. The involvement of local ward councillors from different areas in the illegal operation of roadside kitchen markets has also been reported. The illegal markets do not contribute to national revenue. Instead, they are causes of major public sufferings as the markets often block the footpath, create traffic congestion and dump garbage by the road. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police and the two city corporations of Dhaka are well aware of the situation, but have failed to take any effective action against the illegal markets that occupy public spaces.

Dhaka city officials and the city police, however, brush aside their involvement in such extortion from kitchen markets, and promise to investigate if there is any such allegation against individuals from their offices. They also express disappointment that eviction drives against illegal markets have proved futile as shopkeepers keep returning to the site. Local people, however, blame the complicity of law enforcers and city officials in the continued operation of such unauthorised markets. They complain that the area-wise distribution of vegetable and fish market is disproportionate to the population size. The illegal markets, therefore, offer some convenience, but they also create chances for the syndicates to extort money. It is now evident that token eviction drives do not solve the problem at hand unless and until the government takes action against the syndicates, especially ward councillors, city officials and law enforcers abusing power and influence to make money. The city authorities should also seriously consider a rehabilitation plan for the shopkeepers who rely on their roadside business for survival. The government also needs to ensure an alternative economic opportunity for them to make eviction drives sustainable.

The government must, therefore, conduct a judicious investigation and bring city officials and law enforcers found guilt to justice for their involvement in extortion to reclaim the public spaces that the markets occupy. The ruling party must also look into the allegation against its leaders and activists. The city authorities need to consider setting up more kitchen markets to meet the area-wise demand for a sustainable solution to the problem. An economic rehabilitation plan must also be in place to help the evicted shopkeepers.

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