Home Country Extortion institutionalised? | The Daily Star

Extortion institutionalised? | The Daily Star

by Istiak Ahmed Shimul

Donning vests that say “DSCC Toll Collector”, they move around Gulistan, Jai Kali Mandir Road  (between Thathari Bazar and Wari), Motijheel, Fulbaria, Azimpur and  Laxmibazar (near Bahadur Shah Park) in the capital — signaling commercial vehicles to  stop.

Some of these toll collectors are quite energetic. Oftentimes they run behind vehicles whose drivers are mostly baffled to see  the signal to stop in the middle of the road. 

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Though collecting tolls at a terminal or designated point may be a  normal practice, many things are wrong in the abovementioned situation. 

First of all, even though the toll is being collected in the name of  terminals, there is none. Secondly, this collection is going on  violating a government order. And lastly, it’s being collected in the  middle of the road in the name of road repair, as per the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). 

These tolls range from Tk 10 to Tk 60 and are collected from CNG-run auto rickshaws, human haulier, pickup vans, minibuses and buses. 

DSCC introduced the levy on different modes  of transports from terminals, a move that people involved in the sector  have termed illegal and violation of a government order. 

DSCC leased out the two “terminals” — Gulistan-Jai Kali Mandir  (Saydabad) bus terminal and Fulbaria bus terminal — to Uttara Chaka and  Minhaz Enterprise respectively, on November 11 and October 13 last year.  

Mentionable, Uttara Chaka won the bid at Tk 2.93 crore while Minhaz Enterprise secured the one-year contract at Tk 2.50 crore. 

According to the one-year contract, the two companies have been  authorised to collect tolls from commercial transports from the two  terminals — which do not exist.

The amount collected is kept by the companies. 

DSCC also allowed the two companies to collect toll in the name of  stopover terminals from over two dozen designated points of the city  under its jurisdiction. 

INSTITUTIONALISED EXTORTION?

Transport insiders, however, said the two terminals do not fall in  the category of bus terminals as those do not provide any amenities  associated with one. 

They said this “toll collection” is nothing less than an  “institutionalised extortion”. Besides, the companies seem to be in a  mad race for making as much money as they can, they alleged. 

They also said collecting tolls at different points on the street is  a violation of a government order. The lessees even collect tolls from trucks and rickshaw-vans, violating contracts, they alleged. 

Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’  Federation, said Fulbaria, Jatrabari, Ittefaq crossing, Demra and  Natyamancha at Gulistan are not terminals. 

“A terminal is a place where a restroom, washroom and some other  facilities should be in place,” Osman told The Daily Star recently. 

He also said as per a contract between the LGRD ministry and bus owners, the city corporations cannot collect tolls from roads. 

DSCC has even authorised the two companies to collect tolls from  vehicles at kitchen markets and from roads, alleged Osman, adding that  some people are collecting tolls from truckers at night. 

He said they have already raised the issue with DSCC authorities.

“The way the city corporation is collecting tolls, it might force the owners to stop operating their buses,” he warned. 

LGRD UNAWARE

The LGRD ministry in a letter issued on December 3, 2015, said  collecting tolls from highways by setting up boxes and other means by  the city corporations and municipalities instead of designated bus or  truck terminals is illegal. 

The letter also directed all concerned to refrain from such harassment. 

Contacted recently, Mohammad Nure Alam Siddiqui, joint secretary of the Local  Government Division, said they were not aware of the DSCC decision.

“They [DSCC] did not inform us,” said Siddiqui. 

He also mentioned that the LGRD directive on city corporations and municipalities is still valid. 

Asked, Supreme Court lawyer Shafiqul Islam Babul said collecting  toll from roads without providing any terminal facility is not logical. 

“They [DSCC] should have held meetings with the home ministry, BRTA,  Road Transport Owners’ Association, Road Transport Workers’ Association  and other stakeholders before imposing it,” he said. 

COMPLAINTS POUR IN

Visiting different city points recently, this correspondent saw the toll collectors at work. 

At Jai Kali Mandir, a toll collector was seen running behind a  pick-up van and stopped it near a filling station, around 200 metres  away from the spot they were collecting tolls. 

The driver Mohammad Aslam reluctantly paid Tk 30. 

“I’m carrying goods from our factory to deliver it to Gulshan. I  have not used any terminal… why should they charge me?” said a  frustrated Aslam. 

Kalu Sheikh, managing director of Moumita Paribahan, said they are operating around 150 busses from Chandra to Narayanganj. 

“We pay parking fees at Gabtali Terminal and to Narayanganj City  Corporation. But DSCC is now collecting Tk 40 from each bus from  Bakshibazar point although we don’t park our buses at Gulistan,” he  said. 

Mohammad Barkat Ullah Bhulu, president of Dhaka Mahanagar  Auto-rickshaw Beboshayee Malik Samity, said due to acute shortage of  parking facilities in the city, their drivers are already paying traffic penalty every day. 

“We are already paying fines to police for illegal parking… now DSCC  is taking terminal fees from us without even giving us any terminal  facility,” he said. 

Khandaker Enayet Hossain, secretary general of Dhaka Sarak and  Paribahan Owners’ Association, said they are not against paying tolls.  “But DSCC will have to ensure that there are terminals for us,” he said.  

He expressed dissatisfaction over the rise in toll fees — at  Fulbaria from Tk 20 to Tk 40, at Gulistan from Tk 30 to Tk 60 and at  Sayedabad from Tk 40 to Tk 60. 

ALL IN NAME OF ROAD REPAIR

Contacted, ABM Aminullah Nuri, chief executive officer of DSCC, said  they have introduced it to stop illegal toll collection and bring the  system under discipline and a legal framework.

Asked why they are collecting tolls in the name of terminals when there  are no proper terminals in the areas, and as well as from roads, Nuri  said, “We are collecting tolls as vehicles are using DSCC roads and the  city corporation has to spend money to repair it. We are only collecting  tolls from commercial transports.”

Regarding the allegations of illegal and additional toll  collections, the DSCC CEO said they have already instructed police to  take necessary steps in this regard. 

“We will also conduct mobile court drives to stop that,” he assured. 

Contacted, Md Altaf Masud, managing director of Uttara Chaka, said  some people unbeknownst to them collected toll from trucks initially. 

“We have instructed our people not to take tolls from trucks,” said  Masud. He said they have also informed the police station concerned to  take action against this illegal toll collection. 

He said they are not charging extra money from vehicles beyond the DSCC assigned rate. 

Md Shaifur Rahman, proprietor of Minhaz Enterprise, also said they do not take any extra money from vehicles. 

He, however, alleged that they do not get tolls from many vehicles though they were supposed to pay tolls as per the contract.  He said they are taking tolls from the designated places as per the contract with DSCC.    



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