Extortion plagues transport sector

Highway extortion has been blamed as the root cause behind price hike of essentials and rising trends in fares of passenger bus tickets.
It is said that a section of transport leaders are engaged in realising huge amounts of taka every day in the name of different organisations of transport workers and owners.

Besides, some unscrupulous police or members of law-enforcement agency is also involved in extortion. According to experts, rampant extortion in the transport sector is responsible for high prices of various commodities while the passengers also have to pay extra fares.
The Awami League presidium member Mohammad Nasim, who is also a former Home Minister, on Wednesday also mentioned that the extortion on highways is the main problem in the transport sector.

“Crores of taka are being extorted from the transport sector in various ways and there is no ideology or ethics of the leaders involved in the transport politics,” said Mohammad Nasim, also the spokesperson of the Awami League-led 14-party alliance. While speaking at a function at the National Press Club in the city, the former Home Minister said that apart from transport leaders, several police personnel are also involved with the extortion.

Earlier on October 3, leaders of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Malik-Sramik Oikya League (BSPMSOL) at a press conference urged the government to launch drives in the transport sector to put an end to corruption and harassment by godfathers and police. At the press conference, BSPMSOL secretary Ismail Hossain Bachchu in a written statement said extortionists collect around Tk 1.65 crore every day in Dhaka' transport sector and DRTOWA leaders are also involved in it.

Earlier the president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association (BRTOA), Mashiur Rahman Ranga, who also runs a transport business, accused police and transport workers’ leaders of rampant extortion from buses and trucks on highways across the country. While speaking at the biannual general meeting of the BRTOA held in the capital, Ranga alleged that transport a transport owner has to pay Tk 7,000 to Tk 8,000 for a trip from Dhaka to Panchagarh as illegal money.

He categorically accused Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Shramik Federation (SPSF) leaders and workers of unabated extortion on the highways. Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan is the executive president of the Shramik Federation, the umbrella organisation of transport workers' bodies.

Earlier in 2012, transport leaders led by Shajahan demanded before a parliamentary sub-committee that extortion be made legal to stop uncontrolled corruption in the transport sector. They had also chalked out ways on how could they pay a legal fee from all transports. In support of their demand, Shajahan Khan had mentioned that extortion would stop on roads once such so-called “toll collection” was legalised.

Enayet then had backed Shajahan. But questioned about it yesterday, saying that legalizing illegal toll collection is not a solution. Asked about the alleged involvement of police, a top-ranking official at the Police Headquarters said if anyone comes up with specific complaints, they will take action.

Another top official of the Highway Police refuted the allegation against them rather he claimed there is no instance of extortion by Highway Police. He, however, said if they receive complaints with specific evidence of extorting money, they will carry out an investigation and take action.

Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, secretary-general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, said that ultimately passengers have to bear the brunt of extortion in the transport sector. He said they came to know from owners and workers that each bus owner has to pay Tk 600 to Tk 1,200 and a human haulier has to pay Tk 600 to 800 as extortion money in the capital every day. “Police and workers' organisations are involved in it.”

Most of the buses in the city do not follow the government's fare chart fixed by the authority concerned and realized more than the legal fare from passengers as they have to add the amount of the “extortion money, they paid on the road,” he said. The extortion from trucks is more serious because it influences the prices of essentials, he added.

Several transport owners at a function held at Mahanagar Natya Mancha in the capital slammed different transport workers' organisations and police for extortion from passenger buses and goods-laden trucks across the country.