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Hawkers face ongoing extortion, lose Tk1.5cr a month

  • Published at 04:12 pm June 19th, 2017
  • Last updated at 08:22 pm June 20th, 2017
Hawkers face ongoing extortion, lose Tk1.5cr a month
Rahim is a belt-trader. Every day, he sets up his shop on the footpaths of Motijheel trying to make a living. But for Rahim, even his simple business is threatened by “linemen” – extortionists who demand payment to allow hawkers to carry on their business. Sadly, Rahim is not alone. Extortion from roadside hawkers is a regular occurrence in different areas of Dhaka. The hawkers cannot run their businesses without giving extortion money. They complain that this extortion is happening with the help of local leaders and administration. Motijheel is the prime business spot for hawkers because of the various government and non-government organisations in the area. About 4,500 to 5,000 hawkers and shopkeepers have set up shop in Motijheel and adjacent areas. Seizing this opportunity, various extortionists have been collecting on average Tk6 lakh each day in the Motijheel and Ideal School areas. This turns out to cost the hawkers Tk1.5 crore each month. Gulistan, Purana Paltan, GPO, Baitul Mukarram, Dainik Bangla Intersection, Golap Shah Mazar, and Phulbaria all have their own extortionist circles as well. Amin is a clothes seller and has a shop on the footpaths as Rahim does. He too has to deal with harassment from extortionists on the daily. This reporter spoke to them both. They alleged that people looking to do business were required to pay, or they were not allowed to sit there. The linemen charged prices according to the size and type of shops, and they had to pay between Tk100-150 per day. Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon has said that the Gulistan-Motijheel area had become free of hawkers and that pedestrians could now move about in peace. He also mentioned that all extortionists and racketeers would be brought under the law. However, the reality is much different. The hawkers complained that they had to pay Tk50-100 daily before they were allowed to set up shop there. Though, since the eviction drive, these “linemen” have been claiming higher administration costs and now charge Tk100-150. Variation in daily payments to 'linemen' across areas and types of businesses According to a recent advertisement, renting a ground floor unit of 5,500 square-foott at Gulshan 2 costs Tk1,500,000 per month –i.e. Tk273 per square-foot where tenants can enjoy security, necessary facilities, utility connections etc. However, hawkers can end up paying Tk1812 per square-foot, which is seven times higher, while receiving none of the benefits from commercial spaces. The combined amount from the 2.6 lakh hawkers in Dhaka comes to Tk1825cr, which is very close to the combined budget of DNCC and DSCC – Tk2062cr, according to a study titled “State of Cities 2016: Traffic Congestion in Dhaka City- Governance Perspectives”, carried out by Brac Institute of Governance and Development of the Brac University, On the condition of anonymity, some hawkers have revealed the names of extortionists in various locations. Lineman Salim is in charge of the area between the Motijheel Ispahani building and the Tikatuli area. Sadek collects money from the Ispahani building to the Motijheel Alico area. Mokbul and Shahid are in charge of the Sonali Bank region. Azad runs the area around Bangladesh Bank. Tajul Islam and his son Bablu collect money from the footpaths around Rupali Bank. Paban and Rahim have Janata Bank and its adjacent area. Nurul Islam aka Nuru has the Balaka Building neighbourhood. Kala Kashem collects money from the Jiban Bima Bhaban neighbourhood. And finally, Saiful Molla and Shaheed Reza Bachchu are in charge of the Ideal School area. The hawkers further alleged that local Awami League leaders and the police were also complicit in this business. Sources said that three cases have been filed with Motijheel, Paltan and Shahbag police stations on February 9, naming 72 people accused of extortion on the footpaths. DSCC Estate Officer Mohammad Shamsul Alam is plaintiff for the three cases. Each case outlines that the extortionists take control of the streets and footpaths and create obstacles for hawkers from 8am to 8pm every day, until shopkeepers have paid them between Tk100 to Tk400 before they can open their shops. When DSCC officials and employees tried to take action against these extortionists, the officials had been assaulted by the extortionists. However, the linemen have recently become fearful of government action. Motijheel police Sub-Inspector Shafikul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that 16 names had been filed against in the Motijheel police station. Of these 16, four had been arrested and are on bail. The remaining 12 have also received bail from courts after surrendering themselves. He further mentioned that a charge sheet will be filed very soon in court with the evidence of this case. Bangladesh Hawkers Federation President MA Kashem told the Dhaka Tribune that the linemen are still active. They have been collecting money from hawkers incognito, even on holidays. He said that the accused of the cases from DSCC are seen out in public, carrying on their extortion activities as before, under the safety of influential individuals. Hawkers cannot possibly be evicted without suitable rehabilitation. However, they are willing to pay the government rent in order to stop illegal extortion, he added. When asked about the involvement of police in these extortion activities, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Motijheel Division Deputy Commissioner Md Anwar Hossaid told the Dhaka Tribune: “I do not know about such incidents. If anyone has a specific complaint against a policeman, we insist that they submit a written complaint against them so that we can take action. However, it is not right to complain against the entire police force as a whole.”
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