Dhaka,  Wednesday
29 May 2024

Pockets of extortionists heavier from footpath

Imran Ali

Published: 08:09, 6 April 2024

Pockets of extortionists heavier from footpath

Photo : Collected

During this Eid season, the pockets of the extortionists who operate on the capital's footpaths have become significantly heavier. Reports suggest that approximately 500 crores have been extorted from these shops by street extortionists. With a few more days of Eid remaining, the situation remains tense.

According to estimates from concerned individuals, the subscription money of Tk 500 crore has found its way into the pockets of dishonest political leaders, activists, police officers, and city corporation personnel.

It's understood that each "lineman" oversees a specific area, commonly referred to as a "foot," which can accommodate up to 300 hawkers. These hawkers are allotted a small cot (chowki) space, typically two cubits by four cubits each. However, many hawkers are also allowed to occupy space directly on the streets, besides the pavements. Additionally, there's a system for mobile allocation.

Businessmen have reported that during the Eid season, the Newmarket alone collects between 25 to 30 lakh taka daily. Similarly, the Gulistan sees collections ranging from 18 to 20 lakh taka, while the Motijheel zone accumulates around 20 to 25 lakh taka. Additionally, daily collections from other areas include 10 lakhs from Uttara, 15 lakhs from Gabtali, 10 lakhs from Malibagh, 10 lakhs from Farmgate, and 9 lakhs from the Mirpur area.

According to some hawker leaders, there are currently 350,000 hawkers in Dhaka city. Typically, these hawkers are charged a daily fee ranging from a minimum of 200 taka to a maximum of 1000 taka, depending on factors such as the area and size of their stalls. On average, each hawker pays at least 300 taka per day. However, this rate tends to increase one month before Eid.

They further stated that with Eid approaching this month, there is a target of collecting Tk 500 crore from the hawkers alone.

It's understood that there are approximately 5 to 6 thousand hawkers in Dhaka's Newmarket and its surrounding areas. Here, a minimum of 25 lakh taka is collected daily. Consequently, if a shop or footpath remains closed for a day, those who are obligated to collect this fee suffer significant losses.

When inquired about who exacts this subscription, it was revealed that it involves some members of the police force, personnel from the city corporation, and certain local-level political leaders affiliated with the ruling party. Additionally, there are linemen and cashiers appointed to handle the collection of this money. Interestingly, these linemen and cashiers are appointed by the police and their positions remain unaffected by changes in the governing administration. Their roles are akin to government positions and remain stable despite political transitions.

Hawker leader Mushrikul Islam said that the biggest beneficiary is the administration. They are the ones who maintain this footpath rental for profit. On the question of who is the administration, he said, everyone knows it. I don't want to be specific. The hawkers will suffer.

One of the business leaders of Newmarket said on condition of anonymity that the outside hawkers are controlled by the leaders of the hawkers' association, even if they look after the affairs of the market.

He said that each shop has a separate space allocated. Some are 3 feet and some are 6 feet. They pay 500 per day for 3 feet. And for 6 feet, the subscription has been fixed at 1000 taka. In this lineman has to pay a separate amount. Even if there is no power line, 'electricity is used illegally'.

According to the business leader, a staggering 25 lakh taka is withdrawn daily from Newmarket to Dhaka College. However, this subscription fee is particularly intensified during the Eid season. Post-Eid, there might be a slight decrease in this amount, as mentioned by the business leader.

Further investigation revealed that the linemen overseeing approximately 200 shops from Rajdhani Super Market to Beltpotri area are identified as Babul and Bakul. Several shopkeepers along that footpath have disclosed that these linemen typically collect 100 taka from each shop every evening. However, around Eid, the pressure intensifies, and they coerce shopkeepers into paying 500 taka. Failure to adhere to these rates often results in the forced demolition of the shop.

A lineman, preferring anonymity, disclosed that he used to be a hawker on the pavement before assuming the role of a lineman. His sole responsibility now involves collecting money from hawkers. The proceeds from this collection are then distributed among various local leaders and law enforcement officials at different levels. He emphasised the risk associated with attempting to evade payment, stating that those who attempt to avoid payment are swiftly apprehended.

Furthermore, he provided information about specific individuals acting as linemen in various areas: Sultan Mia operates as the sidewalk lineman in front of the capital market in Gulistan, a Jubo League leader serves as the lineman for Madhumati cinema hall in the Motijheel area, another Jubo League leader named Said oversees the Bangabhavan area, Gafur operates in Fakirapule, Nuru Mia in Dilkusha, and salami are collected in front of the Awami League office. Sardar Sona Mia manages the seven footpaths in Jatrabari, while Lineman Shah Alam and Abdur Razzak Dulal are in charge of the Farmgate area. Hossain Mia oversees the sidewalks in Nilkhet, New Market, Gausia Market, and Dhaka College. Extortion activities in the Mirpur area are controlled by Joynal and Aynal, while Ali collects from the sidewalk in the airport area.

In the Farmgate area of the capital, footpaths were previously under the control of the local councilor. However, at present, local Jubo League leaders are operating behind the scenes. They collect 300 taka per shop daily, although the subscription amount has been raised in anticipation of Eid.

Regarding extortion allegations, DMP Joint Commissioner Biplab Kumar Sarkar refuted claims of police involvement, stating that such accusations are unfounded. He emphasised that those making such allegations are not telling the truth.

He further mentioned that if a collective decision is made, it is feasible to relocate all sidewalk shops in the capital within half an hour.