Footpaths of 2.5 kilometres road stretching from Shyambazar area of Sutrapur to Lakkhibazar via Bahadur Shah Park are occupied by over one thousand vendors with small benches and vans.
Hawkers sell all sorts of household items, trinkets, food and vegetable items on these benches and vans. The street vendors, however, had to pay Tk 30,000-40,000 as advance money. They pay Tk 450-600 per day for setting these benches and vans on both sides of the road.
Asked who takes this money, Syed Tanvir Zilani, a fast food seller in the footpath of Lakkhibazar’s Ekrampur said ‘lineman leader’ Md Firoz’s men collect the toll from the vendors. If anyone refuses to pay the toll, the lineman and his associates beat them up or throw away the goods. Firoz and his associates identify themselves as the ruling party’s local leaders.
According to Bangladesh Hawkers Federation, not only this area, at least 38 ‘lineman leaders’ in 65 areas including Gulistan, Paltan, Motijhell, Jatrabari, Jurain, New Market, Farmgate, Mirpur and Uttara oversee the toll collection. Over 150 linemen collect tolls from the hawkers in the city. The linemen are manned by five-seven associates.
Investigation revealed that powerful political leaders and a section of policemen appoint lineman leaders and linemen in the city. Some word councillors are also allegedly involved in the process.
There are at least 300,000 hawkers in Dhaka city. Sources of hawkers said they have to pay from Tk 90 to Tk 1000 daily as tolls depending on what goods they sell. According to the hawkers federation central committee’s estimation, 300,000 hawkers on average pay Tk 200 daily. As per this estimation, an amount of Tk 60 million per day and Tk 1.8 billion per month is collected from the hawkers.
Bangladesh Hawkers Federation and Bangladesh Hawkers League’s president MA Kashem told Prothom Alo that a clique of political leaders, illegal hawkers organisations, the extortionists under the guise of linemen and policemen collect the toll. They continue their extortion dodging arrest though cases were filed against them.
MA Kashem demands action be taken against these extortionists.
Who controls the extortionist gang
As per the Bangladesh Hawkers Federation data prepared recently, among the lineman leaders and political leaders involved in toll collection, 22 are leaders of the ruling party, councillors, leaders of Jubo League, Swecchasebak League and Sramik League. Awami League leader and Dhaka South City Corporation’s (DSCC) word no. 10 councilor Maruf Ahmed, Jubo League leader of Motijheel area Sagar Ahmed, Awami League leader Bacchu Mia, Motijheel thana Sramik League leader Nur Islam, DSCC councillor of word no. 50 and local Awami League leader Masum Mollah, Jubo League leader of Jurain Md Ibrahim and Nurul Islam, a leader of Hawkers League which was declared illegal by the labour court, are among the 22 people. Their men collect toll in Motijheel, Jatrabari and Jurain areas.
But these leaders denied the allegation. Some of them blamed linemen leaders.
Ward councillor Maruf Ahmed claimed to Prothom Alo that he is not involved with collecting toll but lineman leader Saiful Molla collects tolls from the footpath in front of Motijheel Ideal School. Another councillor Masum Mollah claimed that lineman leader Torab Ali collect tolls in his Jatrabari area.
According to Bangladesh Hawkers Federation and hawkers, Jubo League president of DSCC’s word 13 Sahabuddin Dulal, Jubo League leaders Shely Ahmed, Bimal Chandra and Jubo League activist Abdul Hannan collect tolls from Purana Paltan, Baitul Mukarram, Bangabandhu Avenue and Gulistan areas. BNP leader Md Hannan collects tolls from the GPO area. DSCC word no. 18 councillor and New Market Awami League’s vice president ASM Ferdous and word Jubo League secretary Md Ibrahim alias Ebu control the footpath of the New Market area. DNCC councillor of word no. 26 Faridur Rahman Khan, DNCC word no. 28 Jubo League president Nazrul Islam and secretary Shah Alam control footpaths of Farmgate area, Shah Ali thana Sramik League president Sumon Dhali, DNCC word 12 Swechhasebak League president Md Faruk Hossain, Darussalam thana Swecchasebak League president Md Islam and member Md Hannan control footpaths of Mirpur-1 area.
But the ruling party leaders denied their involvement in the extortion. Md Islam claimed some other persons collect tolls using his name.
Shah Alam said councillor Faridur Rahman Khan controls the footpaths of the Farmgate area in connivance with the police.
Faridur Rahman, however, said Shah Alam is the leader of hawkers and he collects the toll from the Farmgate area.
Councilor ASM Ferdous blamed the former councillor for collecting tolls. He claimed law enforcers of New Market police station shelter the extortionists.
Police from respective police stations denied their involvement in collecting tolls. However, deputy commissioner Hayatul Islam Khan of Motijheel division police said some of the allegations brought out against the law enforcers are true while some are not.
He said if policemen are found to be involved with collecting extortion from footpaths, there would be efforts to find a way out.
No respite despite complaint
Hawker Syed Tanvir Jilani said he gave an interview with a private television channel regarding extortion in footpaths recently. Angered lineman leader Firoz and 7-8 others beat him up severely for the interview. Tanvir went to Sutrapur police station to file a case but the police did not take the case. He later filed the case with Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court. The criminal Investigation Department (CID) is now investigating the case.
Officer in charge of Sutrapur police station Md Moinul Islam claimed that Tanvir did not come to file a case.
He denied the allegation that extortionists share the tolls with police.
A total of 37 hawkers in Sutrapur and Gendaria area recently filed a complaint with the Inspector General of Police (IGP) against 14 linemen and linemen leaders. They alleged that the extortionists use the names of a sub-inspector (SI) of Gendaria police outpost and city corporation officials in collecting tolls.
Last July, Bangshal and Kotwali thana Hawkers League president Md Saker filed a written complaint with the then IGP Benazir Ahmed against the linemen of that area.
Md Saker told Prothom Alo that extortionists claim themselves to be involved with Awami League. They collect tolls from all hawkers in Bangshal and Kotwali areas. A portion of the tolls would go to Kayet tuli police outpost.
The officer of the police outpost was transferred after Saker filed the complaint with IGP.
DMP’s outgoing commissioner Md Shafiqul Islam told Prothom Alo that they received an allegation that some policemen collect toll from hawkers. An investigation is going on against the accused policemen.
According to a study by Institute of Governance and Development of Brac University conducted in 2016, there are at least 300,000 hawkers in Dhaka city. The study revealed that hawkers in Dhaka city pay Tk 192 as toll per day on average. The cumulative amount of the toll collected yearly stood at Tk 18.25 billion, which was even higher than the annual budget of the two city corporations at that time.
Md Shahnewaz, now a teacher at Independent University’s global studies and governance department, led the research. He said the number of hawkers was 300,000 during the research but it has surely increased by now.
He thinks it is not possible to evict the hawkers fully from the footpath but the government can take steps such as designating a place for hawkers in order to curb extortion.