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Ramadan extortion bonanza on footpaths

NewsWorld365 NewsWorld365 , July 21, 2014

 

With the capital’s makeshift footpath-stalls seeing an extra rush of customers ahead of Eid, a large number of unscrupulous people and law enforcers are set to bag at least Tk670 crore by “selling” pavement space and extorting hawkers during the single month of Ramadan.

In what becomes the biggest haul of the year for them, the gangs earn up to 4.4 times more compared to what they bag during a regular month.

While the city’s rich and the elite head to luxurious shopping malls to buy high-end products, most of the lower-middle income Dhaka residents have to rely on the makeshift shops where they can buy clothing and gift items at an affordable price.

As more and more people crowd the pavements ahead of Eid, getting a spot to set up shop on the footpath becomes difficult for the hawkers. To profit from the situation, around 60 groups – some of them with alleged links to the ruling party – are active in the city extorting at least Tk9 crore daily from hawkers.

Although the police are supposed to prevent such illegal practices, there are widespread allegations that the law enforcers also join the profit-making frenzy during Eid by extorting the hawkers every day.

According to MA Kashem, president of Bangladesh Hawkers Association, the capital has around 2.5 lakh permanent footpath hawkers; while around 50,000 additional traders have arrived in Dhaka to do business ahead of Eid this year.

Sources said each hawker has to pay at least Tk300 every day during Ramadan; on the other hand, the seasonal hawkers have to pay Tk30,000 to “buy” their pavement space and the permanent ones pay Tk10,000 to renew their “permission” to sell on the footpaths.

Ahead of Eid, the gangs allegedly collect around Tk400 crore by “selling” pavement spaces, while a further Tk270 crore is also extorted by both goons and corrupt law enforcers during Ramadan from over three lakh hawkers active in the city.

During the rest of the year, however, the hawkers have to pay around Tk150 crore a month in total for the chance to continue their business on the capital’s footpaths, sources said, adding that floating hawkers number around 10,000 during regular seasons.

Abul Azad, 35, is a farmer from Noakhali who has been coming to Dhaka for the past three years ahead of Eid to sell jewellery. Sitting on his footpath-stall near the New Market area, he told the Dhaka Tribune that he “bought” the makeshift stall for one month at the cost of Tk25,000.

“The footpaths in the capital’s new market area is under control of Ali Hossain group. If anyone wanted to start business on the footpath, then Hossain’s group members sell the spots according to the size.”

However, Ali Hossain, the joint convener of the New Market thana unit of Jubo League, denied the allegation, claiming that police middlemen were involved in such business. He added that his enemies might have spread rumours again him in this regard.

Asked about the issue, Jubo League’s New Market thana unit President Alamgir also told the Dhaka Tribune that no member of his unit was involved in such illegal business.

Twenty-five-year-old Kalam, who sells shoes at a footpath-stall in Mirpur Mazar road, said: “Local Awami League leader Miron’s group controls the footpaths from Mirpur 1 to Mazar Road. I gave around Tk30,000 to the group members to buy the footpath, which was earlier priced at Tk25,000.”

Miron, the publication secretary of Dhaka metropolitan (north) unit of Jubo League, could not be reached for comments despite repeated attempts.

However, Awami League’s Mirpur thana unit President Delwar Hossain admitted that Miron was involved in extorting money from hawkers, adding that Miron had the support of an influential politician.

Sources inside different hawkers association said there are around 60 syndicates in the capital involved in “selling” footpath space during Eid, including Shahdat group in Gausia, Hanif alias Foot Hanif in Ramna, Rafiq and Sattar in Dhaka College area, Moin group in Islampur, Habib and Mokbul in Mouchak and Malibagh area and Ashraf group in Mirpur 12.

MA Aziz, acting president of Dhaka city unit Awami League, denied allegations that ruling party men were involved in the business of “selling” footpath space. He, however, said organisational actions would be taken against anyone found guilty of extorting or “selling” of footpath illegally. “These members will not be given any post in the party ranks in future,” he said.

Sources said the footpaths are “sold” to hawkers under two categories: the “Boro Bhiti” covers a 5-feet by 3-feet space, while the “Choto Bhiti” covers a 2-feet by 3-feet space.

For doing business on a permanent basis, the Boro Bhiti spaces are sold for around Tk2 lakh to TK2.5 lakh and Chhoto Bhiti at Tk1 lakh to Tk1.5 lakh. However, to set up shop for only a month before Eid, the hawkers have to pay at least Tk10,000 to get a space.

The extortion ring 

Many hawkers also claimed that they have to pay extortion to the police, as well as the local gangs, for being allowed to conduct their business on the pavement.

Several hawkers told the Dhaka Tribune that although corrupt police officials daily collected at least Tk100 during most of the year, the rate climbed to Tk300 ahead of Eid.

Hawkers Association President MA Kashem said: “About the extortion issue, we talked to the authorities many times but nothing happened. Hawkers still have to pay the money.”

Masud, a 39-year-old hawker, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The lineman [middleman] of Uttara West police station collects around Tk50-Tk150 from each shop every day. The extortion rate usually depends on the position of the footpath. Chunnu group sells footpath from House Building area of Jasimuddin area.”

Iajuddin, a hawker in Gulistan, said lineman Shahjalal collected around Tk350 daily from the hawkers who set up shop on the pavement between the intersections of Dainik Bangla and Paltan.

Arif Chowdhury, president of National Hawkers’ Federation, told the Dhaka Tribune: “We have agreed to give a fixed amount of toll to the government. Because of extortion, hawkers are facing loss. Besides, the government is also being deprived of revenue.”

Asked about the corruption claims, Monirul Islam, joint commissioner of Detective Branch of police, said: “We have taken several steps to resist extortion, and the tendency has reduced than before.

“If any police is involved in such kinds of wrongdoing, we will definitely take action.”

Responding to graft allegations, Motijheel police station Officer-in-Charge Forman Ali also said: “These are only allegations, but no one can give any proof. We believe on evidence. If anyone is caught red-handed, he will be punished.”

Rafiqul Islam, officer-in-charge of Uttara West police station, also claimed that no official of the station was involved is such wrongdoing.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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