Extortion on Mawa-Kawrakandi route spiked in the past two weeks as truckers had to pay tolls five times to travel just two kilometres from Pachchar Bazar to Pantun.
The ferry services faced disruption in the two-week time because of strong current in the Padma River and the tolls were paid to police and local influential extortionists.
Sources said the recent disruption in the ferry services led to long queues of goods-laden trucks that came from Khulna and Barisal divisions as well as 21 districts, waiting to cross the river at Kawrakandi terminal. Each trucker, while driving on Kawrakandi Road having reached Bhanga-Bishwa Road intersection, had to pay highway police more than Tk200.
The second phase of extortion took place near Hazi Shariatullah bridge, four kilometres from the terminal, which was followed by tolls paid near Ozone Scale at Pachchar Bazar, near bailey bridge and near Bashkol at the ferry terminal. The final phase of toll was collected when truckers got on the ferries.
In each of the phases, the amount of toll varied from Tk50 to Tk200, and the total amount stood between Tk800 to Tk1,000 per truck.
The plight of truckers
Trucker Nasir Hossain, who drove a Dhaka-bound truck laden with onions from Benapole to Kawrakandi, said he had to pay police Tk500 as they intercepted his vehicle after reaching Bhanga in Faridpur.
“I again paid Tk200 to highway police at Pacchar Bazar and another Tk200 at the bypass intersection,” he said.
Truck driver Ishrat Hossain, who was destined for Chittagong, said he was stranded at Kawrakandi terminal for three days.
“I paid tolls at three points and there are more such points before I board the ferry,” he said.
Trucker Faruk Alam said those who can pay tolls are granted quick clearance.
“For others who are unable to pay have to wait at the terminal for eight to 10 days,” he said.
Jasimuddin, who came from Jhenaidah, had been stranded at the terminal for nine days. He said the local administration turns a blind eye to the unchecked extortion, and it is the workers like him who are repressed when they protest against extortion.
Police, BIWTC officials point finger at each other
Law enforcers posted at Kawrakandi terminal said they have only been tasked with maintaining the order and no toll is collected from truckers.
They said they let a truck pass only after directed by BIWTC officials.
On-duty Assistant Sub-Inspector Julhash said: “We do not control the serial of trucks. We only maintain the law and order.”
On the other hand, BIWTC Manager at Kawrakandi terminal Salam Hossain the serial of vehicles is controlled by police.
“We inform police of the number of vehicles that can board each of the ferries. Police let the trucks drive here and we load those onto the ferries,” he said.
Madaripur Police Super Khandakar Faridul Islam said occasional visits are paid to the terminal to check anomalies.
“We take action if we receive a complaint that a truck driver has cut in line by paying money. The allegation of extortion against highway police is dealt with by senior officials of the department concerned,” he said.
“Everyone knows about a gang that ruled the terminal in terms of extorting money from truckers but there will be stern measures if anyone intercepts a vehicles on the road to collect tolls,” he added.
The influential authority
More than 150 people backed by influential locals collect toll from vehicles in different phases at the terminal. 15-20 of them collect tolls only from truckers.
The extortionists, with the assistance of an influential leader of the ruling party, often create artificial mismanagement, leading to tailback which makes it easy for them to collect tolls.
Kawrakandi terminal is under Madaripur 1 constituency, of which Noor-E-Alam Chowdhury is the lawmaker. He allegedly controls the terminal with the help of party activists.
Backed by Noor-E-Alam, lessor of the terminal Abdul Hai Shikdar is so powerful that his supporters enforced a strike in the wake of a case filed over the terrible launch accident on August 4. Six people, including the launch owner, were sued. The protesters called for withdrawal of the case and disrupted launch services for more than eight hours on two separate days.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan refused to answer directly when reporters asked him if Noor-E-Alam is ruling Kawrakandi terminal.
“We have already restored order in almost all the terminals across the country, and will do so at Kawrakandi and Kathalbari terminals in Madaripur soon. The prime minister has said all possible steps would be taken to ensure convenience of the passengers, regardless of the extent of influence of the influential quarters,” he said.
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