Let the security on highway be strengthened

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Presence of a safe goods transportation system is essential for the development of any country's trade and commerce. Secure delivery of the goods is far more important than how fast they reach the destination. Bangladesh gets 75 per cent of its export earnings from the garment sector. In that case, any negative news of this sector is certainly to worry us. In the past, strikes, blockades and political unrest used to disrupt the transportation of goods on highways. Now when that problem has been solved, traders have gotten into another debacle.

According to Prothom Alo news, apparels are being cunningly sneaked out of covered vans at different points of Dhaka-Chattogram highway, on their way from the factory warehouse to Chittagong port. Some incidents are caught right away. In most cases, the issue of theft comes to light when workers of the buyer company rip the cartons open after the goods have been transported abroad.

After stealing goods from the cartons, they refill the empty spaces with sand, soil or scraped fabrics before sealing them up again. Managing director of a knit composite said, ‘Our merchandise has been stolen four to five times in the last three years. We were surprised to get a complaint from the Italian buyer company last month. Apparels worth Tk 2.5 to 3 million have been lost.”

Two years ago, a goods-laden covered van of Narayanganj’s IFS Texwear had fallen victim to theft on its way to the container depot in Chattogram. The company incurred a loss of USD 60,000-70,000 in that incident. Later, they had to manufacture products newly and ship them off by aero plane.   Even BGMEA president Faruque Hassan has claimed that the buyer companies often complain about receiving less merchandise. There are no exact statistics about export-quality readymade garments have been stolen from how many covered vans on the highway.

However, several BGMEA sources have confirmed two theft incidents in 2019. The following year, it escalated to nine. As many as 22 such incidents have occurred just in the first seven months of last year. And, 20-25 thefts have happened so far in the current year. This indicates towards theft incidents going up. Majority of the garment factories send their apparel to different container depots in Chattogram in rented covered vans.

Conspiring with some of the covered van drivers, a group of miscreants snatch away readymade garments by stopping the vehicles at different points of Dhaka-Chattogram highway including Chandina, Feni, Mirsarai, and Sitakunda. When the number of theft incidents on highways increased, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan met with BGMEA leaders as well as top officials of law and order enforcement agencies in July last year. In that meeting, it was decided to strengthen goods transportation security and install CCTV on the roads. That decision still hasn’t been implemented although 18 months have passed.

Though CCTV cameras were supposed to be installed on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway to stop theft, it did not happen. Despite a draft SOP being prepared it didn’t get finalised. The exporters even sat with the chief of highway police. But the issue of preventing theft must not be limited within just assurances and promises. There is no need to guard all the areas on the busy Dhaka-Chattogram road. Security has to be strengthened only on those places where the thieves are active.

In this case, the exporters also need to be cautious about hiring covered vans. Alongside highway police, detectives have to be deployed too in catching the members of this gang. The matter of the country's image is also involved with the theft of goods during transportation. If such incidents keep repeating again and again, even the buyers will turn away. Let effective steps be taken right away to stop theft of goods on highways.