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With elections in sight, tax hikes and eviction drives likely to take a backseat

  • Published at 01:06 am November 19th, 2017
With elections in sight, tax hikes and eviction drives likely to take a backseat
Electoral candidates of the ruling party alliance are pressing the government to relax laws related to eviction drives and mobile courts in an effort to sway public sentiment ahead of the next elections. In the past, eviction drives and mobile courts have been used to stop locally-made battery operated vehicles such as Nosimon, Korimon and easy bikes from running on the roads, and to prevent businesses opening up on footpaths and public places. Obaidul Quader, the road transport and bridges minister and Awami League general secretary, said he recognised that “thousands” of unregistered battery operated three-wheelers like easy bikes are being operated illegally across the nation. However, last Sunday in Dhaka he asked law enforcement agencies to show leniency towards the operators while presiding over a meeting on road safety attended by senior administrative officials, high ranking police officers, and RAB personnel. “There have been several eviction drives against these vehicles in the past but for now, keeping the upcoming elections in mind, we will allow them to operate. The drivers of these three-wheelers are poor but comprise a large voter base,” the minister said. According to the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), implementing policies which would lead to the banning of the fragile three-wheel vehicles would cut the number of road accidents in half by 2020. Professor Shamsul Hoque, Department of Civil Engineering at Buet, said: “If the government is lax in enforcing the law, it will never overcome the challenges of road accidents”.

Footpath businesses

The stance against small businesses which operate from footpaths and roadsides in the capital is also being softened in the run up to the election.

A DSCC eviction drive in Dhaka’s New Market area in April     File Photo: Mehedi Hasan

According to city corporation data, of the 183 km of footpaths in Dhaka, over half (109 km) are being used illegally by an estimated 200,000 people who run small businesses from the roadside. This is despite a high court order which ruled that footpaths are primarily for pedestrians and not local businesses. Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) became vigilant and bolstered its efforts in leading eviction drives following the terrorist attacks at Holey Artisan Bakery in July last year. Last month, however, no such drives were carried out by the urban development agency. “We haven’t received any instructions from the ministry to avoid drives against illegal infrastructure. But last month the police were unable to allocate personnel and as a result we were unable to lead any eviction drive,” Asmaul Hossain, a member of development control at Rajuk, told the Dhaka Tribune. Currently, several small businesses are run illegally from occupied land beside railway tracks all the way from Uttara and through Kamalapur to Narayanganj. Many of these areas have slums that are allegedly supported by Awami League politicians. One ruling party member of parliament, Sanjida Khanam, last year reportedly rallied locals against an eviction drive undertaken in the Jurain area of Dhaka by Bangladesh Railway for the Dhaka-Narayanganj double line project. A senior railway official said: “We always faced challenges to operate eviction drives. If the government now takes such a policy, it will disturb the development work.” Last April, both Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) began eviction drives against illegal businesses across the city. A few months later, most of the footpaths were already occupied again.

Holding taxes hike

The city corporations are also under pressure ahead of the parliamentary elections to postpone proposed hikes in holding taxes levied on property owners. Awami League and even Jatiya Party’s electoral candidates have also been pressurising the corporations’ mayors on the issue, demanding that they delay any increase until after the polls.

A motor van carries bundle of hay. The photo was taken at Jessore      File Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

On Thursday, members of parliament from both ruling and opposition parties heavily criticized the move to increase holding tax and urged the government to reconsider the move. Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, who is an MP from Bhola, said: “People will not accept ninefold increase of holding tax at one go. This needs to be reconsidered.” Jatiya Party lawmaker Kazi Feroz Rashid said: “It does not matter whether the government increased the tax rate once in 10 years. What matters is the amount, which is not people-friendly.” Meanwhile, Amra Dhanmondibasi, a platform organised by the residents of Dhanmondi, submitted a memorandum to the Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon on Thursday, demanding a postponement to the hike. “Though the mayor has not given any official statement over the issue, he told us unofficially that the decision will likely be revised,” said Mohammad Shawkat Hossain, convenor, Amra Dhanmondibasi. “Citizens are worried over the decision to hike the holding tax because it would raise their expenditure,” Jatiya Party leader Syed Abu Hossain Babla said last Wednesday, during a meeting at Shyampur. “I have requested the Dhaka North and South city corporation mayors to postpone the decision because it might negatively impact voters’ mindset. If the city corporations increase holding tax, all the Awami League and Jatiya Party candidates will lose.” The Jatiya Party leader also called for an investigation into why the mayors decided to increase holding tax ahead of polls. Earlier, Chittagong City Awami League President Mohiuddin Choudhury on March 11 said: “The election is nearby. If city corporation increases the tax, voters might not appreciate it. So I request authorities not to raise the holding tax now.”   Parts of the article was first published on banglatribune.com
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