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Hawkers take over Dhaka footpaths ahead of Eid

  • Published at 07:28 pm June 22nd, 2017
Hawkers take over Dhaka footpaths ahead of Eid
With the blessings of extortion gangs in Dhaka, hawkers have once again taken over the recently freed footpaths in the city's Gulistan, Farmgate, New Market and Dhanmondi areas ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. As the hawkers are illegally occupying the public walkways, pedestrians are now forced to walk on the roads which raises the risks of accidents and adds to the already unbearable traffic congestion in those areas. Both Dhaka North and Dhaka South city authorities have periodically taken initiatives to free footpaths and streets from hawkers and street vendors since the mayors took office in 2015. Shortly after the city corporations elections in Dhaka, 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. 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 – with support of the unscrupulous police officials.
Also Read- Gulistan hawkers protest eviction
Sources said the local extortion gangs are especially backed by some corrupt officials in Motijheel and Paltan police stations. This is why, despite several eviction drives by the city authorities, the hawkers have come back to the footpaths, looking to make quick money before Eid. In fact, a powerful Awami League leader in Dhaka South asked Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) deputy commissioner in Motijheel Zone, Anwar Hossain, to let the hawkers return to the footpaths for Eid, A Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) official told the Dhaka Tribune, requesting anonymity. When contacted, Anwar Hossain told the Dhaka Tribune: “It is not right to make sweeping allegations against police. If anyone has any grievances about a specific policeman, we insist that they file a written complaint so we can take action.”

Not Eid charity

The generosity that the gangs are showing to the hawkers for Eid does not come free; they are taking hefty tolls in exchange of their support, as they have always done. A hawker based in Bangabandhu Avenue, who requested not to be named, said every hawker who is taking up space on the footpaths in the area has to cough up Tk2-5 lakh just to set up their business, and then a daily toll of Tk100-500 depending on the size of their shop. “If a hawker does not pay the toll, their business gets shut down,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Read More - The lucrative trade in extorting hawkers
There are at least 5,000 makeshift shops set up by hawkers in Gulistan and its surrounding areas, and linemen of the Gulistan extortion gang collect around Tk15-20 lakh of tolls every day, said local sources. This amount increases before Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha. At least 20 linemen are active in Gulistan, led by Babul and Sardar Amin who are close to a few police officials in Motijheel and Paltan police stations, added the sources. In Farmgate, hawkers pay their tolls to a man named Shah Alam who runs the show on the road between Green Road-Panthapath roundabout and the T&T playground beside Manik Mia Avenue. This reporter tried to contact Shah Alam, but he refused to talk to the media. Besides, Siraj, Sattar, Rafiq and their associates collect the footpath tolls in New Market, while another extortionist, also named Shah Alam, collects tolls from the footpath in front of Rabindra Sarobar beside Dhanmondi Lake. Local sources said Shah Alam got the permission from a Dhaka South ward councillor to allow hawkers back to the footpaths.

Authorities determined to keep hawkers away

Sources said Awami League lawmaker in Dhanmondi Fazle Noor Taposh, DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon and DSCC ward councillors recently had a meeting where they decided that no hawkers would be allowed to run business on the streets of New Market and Dhanmondi areas – Eid or no Eid.
More to Read- Hawkers’ leaders and DSCC mayor continue trading blows
DSCC CEO Khan Mohammad Bilal also said they would continue evicting hawkers from the footpaths when the Dhaka Tribune contacted him on Monday. Asked about the alleged request that DMP Deputy Commissioner Anwar Hossain received from an Awami League leader, Bilal said he was not aware of that event. “We do not know anything about any such request. Our mission is to keep the footpaths free at any cost. Anyone who tries to occupy public walkways illegally will be dealt with accordingly,” he said. Earlier when the Dhaka mayors complained about some unscrupulous police officials aiding the extortion gangs, DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said top police officials were strictly monitoring their colleagues. “Not every policeman is innocent,” he admitted. “Actions will be taken against those who are found to be involved in illegal activities.” MA Kashem, president of hawkers' association in Dhaka, told the Dhaka Tribune on Sunday that the city authorities must ensure rehabilitation for the hawkers before evicting them from the streets. “Evicting hawkers before arranging alternative facilities is unacceptable. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already asked the authorities concerned to ensure hawkers' rehabilitation, and a bill has been passed by Ecnec regarding this issue last year,” he said. “I urge the city corporations to take immediate steps for hawkers' rehabilitation.”
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