‘3780C a year collected from Dhaka’s hawkers’

Dhaka College students blame extortion from hawkers for police support of New Market traders during Tuesday’s clashes

Dhaka College students have blamed the culture of extortion from footpath hawkers behind the inaction of the police at first and later overplay regarding Tuesday’s fatal clashes with New Market shop owners and staff. 

There are around 350,000 hawkers in Dhaka city now, according to Hawker League President Abul Kashem. 

“Starting from Tk200, up to Tk1,000 is collected from each hawker of the city every day. The average collection is Tk300 from each hawker per day. The rate increases one month before Eid," he said. 

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At present, around Tk10.5 crore is realized every day from the hawkers in Dhaka city, which amounts to Tk3,780 crore a year, calculated in accordance with Abul Hashem's claims. 

At New Market and in its surrounding areas, there are around 5,000 hawkers from whom at least Tk1,500,000 is collected every day. 

"So, those who realize the tolls will lose a fortune if the shops and footpaths are closed for a day." 

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He mentioned that a clique of political leaders, police, and linemen collected the tolls and divided the amount among themselves. The situation has been the same under any government. 

"Police appoint the linemen and the cashiers. Their jobs are not affected by changes in government. Their job is like a government service." 

He noted: "A one-day closure of the shops on footpaths will be a huge loss (for the police). The loss is even more because of the Eid rush."

Six years ago, a study found that, with Tk60 crore collected every day from the footpath hawkers in Dhaka, Tk1,825 crore was gained every year.

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The amount was more than the budget allocated for the two city corporations at the time.

The study, titled "The State of Cities 2016: Traffic Congestion in Dhaka City – Governance Perspective", was published by Brac University Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).

It found that Tk3,000 was charged for a four-square-foot area every month while Tk25 was charged for each light bulb every day and Tk2,000 every month.

Dr Mohammad Shahnewaz, head of the research team, said that there were 300,000 hawkers in Dhaka when the research was conducted. 

On average, Tk192 was extorted from each hawker every day, he told DW.

"Our target was to work on the footpath economy. We saw there was a political economy involved in this. 

“Political people, police and linemen operated this extortion. The linemen were appointed by the police. We asked the city corporation authorities to regularize this and collect the money as tax so that the extortion was stopped and the government earned revenue." 

He added that the number of hawkers had increased in the last six years, and so had the toll amount. “This collection is still controlled by the police, political leaders and linemen." 

It is learned that each lineman controls one "foot", where a maximum of 300 hawkers can run their businesses. Each hawker is given a two-by-four foot place to keep his bedstead on the footpath. However, in some places, hawkers are allowed to open shops on the streets as well. Temporary passes are also issued in some cases. 

Fuad Hasan, joint secretary of Dhaka College unit Chhatra League, said that not only the footpath hawkers but the permanent shopkeepers too were regular victims of extortion. 

Daily collection of tolls was the reason why the police were acting in favour of the traders, he told Deutsche Welle (DW), the German state-funded international broadcaster. 

Police Headquarters Additional Inspector General (AlG) Md Kamruzzaman termed the culture a “clear case of corruption and abominable crime”. 

“We will take action if we find any evidence. None will get away with this (extortion)," he warned.

The AIG added that the government followed a zero tolerance policy against corruption. 

Hawker leader Murshiqul Islam thinks the administration is the biggest beneficiary of the hawker tolls. 

“They have kept the process in force for their own benefit. I don’t want to name those persons in the administration. Everyone knows them,” he added.

According to Hawker League President Abul Kashem, where there is a footpath, there will be shops, and some people will start collecting tolls from the hawkers every day.

“It can’t be stopped easily because some police officials are in control of this business,” he told DW.