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FREEING DHAKA FOOTPATHS AND STREETS: When lawmen bend the law

  • Published at 02:11 am November 28th, 2016
  • Last updated at 09:31 pm November 28th, 2016
FREEING DHAKA FOOTPATHS AND STREETS: When lawmen bend the law
Despite vigorous efforts by the city authorities and law enforcers, Dhaka footpaths and streets have yet to be free of hawkers and street vendors and their makeshift shops. But hawkers are not entirely to blame. Several sources told the Dhaka Tribune that the hawkers have the support of some corrupt officials within both police and the government, relying on whose power they always come back to occupy the footpaths and streets after eviction drives. “There is a group of corrupt ruling party leaders, city corporation officials and law enforcers who collect tolls from these hawkers. In exchange, the hawkers come back to set up their business illegally only hours after getting evicted,” said a city corporation official in Dhaka North, requesting not to be named. Freeing Dhaka streets and footpaths from the clutches of hawkers have been a priority for both the mayors of Dhaka since they took office in 2015. Shortly after the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) elections, Dhaka North Mayor Annisul Huq and Dhaka South Mayor Sayeed Khokon met with Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader regarding their mission to free the city walkways and streets from hawkers. Following the meeting, both the mayors announced to launch drives against illegal occupants in major areas of the city to ease the suffering of pedestrians and ensure free traffic movement. But it was easier said than done: since they launched the drives, both the mayors said they had consistently faced obstruction from not just the hawkers and vendors, but also the musclemen empowered by local leaders of Awami Jubo League, Bangladesh Chhatra League and Bangladesh Sramik League – all affiliates of the ruling Awami League. In the latest eviction drive, the DSCC evicted illegal shops in Gulistan on October 27, which was vehemently resisted by the hawkers and led to a clash between them and the authorities. Several people were injured, including the OC of Paltan police station, and the clash created a traffic nightmare in the area. Amid the tension, DSCC Mayor Khokon announced that the evicted hawkers will be temporarily allowed to run their makeshift shops in Mahanagar Natyamancha near Gulistan before a permanent arrangement has been made. The irate hawkers want an end to the extortion they suffer in the hands of police and local political leaders. They brought out a procession, led by two hawkers associations – Bangladesh Hawkers’ Federation and Bangladesh Hawkers’ League – on November 17 in the capital to protest the extortion, as well as the eviction attempts without proper plans to relocate their business. “Evicting us before setting up alternative facilities for us is completely unacceptable,” said MA Kashem, president of both the associations. However, he welcomed the DSCC mayor’s initiative to relocate them. It is good business “This will not end as long as the extortionists have the blessings of the local leaders and police,” said a DNCC high-up, seeking anonymity. “The grabbers have gone so far as to build permanent establishments of the city walkways, violating the High Court order,” he added. The extortionists – or linemen, as they like to refer to themselves – reportedly collect tolls from hawkers all over the capital, especially Gulistan, Jatrabari, Sayedabad, Farmgate, New Market, Gulshan, Mirpur Sectors 1 and 10, Mohakhali and Uttara, he added. In exchange, after an eviction drive at a particular area in the city, hawkers can return to the same spot and resume business within just a few hours. Saiful, a hawker in Gulistan who sells garment products, said he had to pay Tk2 lakh to a ruling party leader just to set up his little shop when he started 10 years ago. “In addition, I have to pay a daily toll of Tk200 to the linemen,” he added. Saiful said every hawker has to pay Tk2-5 lakh to set up business and then pay a daily toll of Tk100-500, depending on the size of the shop. “If we do not pay the toll, our business will be shut down,” he added. According to DSCC sources, there are at least 5,000 hawking shops in Gulistan and its surrounding areas. Taking Tk300 from each shop on average, the linemen collect Tk15 lakh from Gulistan alone every day. Sources said there are 20 linemen in Gulistan led by Babul and Sardar Amin, who are close to a few police officials. In Farmgate, hawkers pay their tolls to a man named Shah Alam who runs the show on the stretch of the road between the IBA Hostel and the T&T playground. He is Jubo League and the secretary of Farmgate Hawkers’ Welfare Association, sources said. “Shah Alam and his associates have been collecting money from the hawkers since the Awami League was voted into power in 2008. They collect Tk1,500-Tk2,000 from each hawker on the footpaths of Farmgate,” said Jalil, a hawker near Tejgaon College. The Dhaka Tribune tried to contact Shah Alam, but his associates said he would not talk to the press. Koton and Saju are the toll collectors in Baitul Mukarram area, Siraj Talukdar, Selim and Moududi Nur Islam in Jurain, Torab Ali in Jatrabari, Hossain, Sattar and Rafiq in New Market, and Kana Dulal, another influential person in Farmgate, the Dhaka Tribune learnt. “It does not matter which party they are from. When BNP was in power, their leaders collected the tolls as well,” said a hawker in Farmgate. A food vendor in Shahbagh said every night a sub-inspector from the nearby police station visits his stall and chat with his friends for hours, occupying the seats, and leaves after collecting at least Tk100-200 from his daily earning. When contacted, DNCC Mayor Annisul Huq told the Dhaka Tribune: “Sometime the hawkers and vendors are backed by local musclemen.” Regarding police involvement in this circuit, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Miah said not every policeman was innocent. However, he said the top officials of the force were strictly monitoring activities of their colleagues. “Actions will be taken against those who are found to be involved in irregular and illegal activities.”
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