Cattle traders have alleged that a nexus of ruling party activists, transport workers’ unions and a section of the police are extorting money from them at will on highways on their way to the capital with sacrificial animals.
They alleged that organised gangs of extortionists were stopping trucks carrying cattle and harassing them for money at various points on highways, at ferry terminals and entry points of the capital.
Hundreds of trucks continued heading towards Dhaka and other parts of the country carrying sacrificial animals for the Eid-ul-Azha, which fall on Monday.
The police, however, said that the incidents of extortion this year were lesser than previous years as police had taken strict measures to check it.
Despite the measures, a section of police were still taking money from cattle-carrying trucks in the name of checking documents while transport workers were forcing them to ‘contribute’ money to ‘unions’ without receipts.
Munshiganj police have identified a sub-inspector and two constables involved in extorting money from cattle-carrying trucks in the name of checking documents and maintaining traffic discipline on the highway.
Munshiganj police superintendent Biplab Bijoy Talukder told New Age that inquiries had begun against the three police personnel. He, however, declined to identify them.
Cattle traders said that they were being subjected to harassment at places in case they express their inability to pay toll. Extortionists and a section of police are forcing them to wait for hours at different ferry terminals and bridges until they pay them money, the traders alleged.
Abul Hossain, a cattle trader who came to Gabtoli cattle market from Sirajganj with sacrificial animals, said that he had to pay a total of Tk 5,000 for his eight cattle at five points on his way to Dhaka.
He said that this year police were a bit flexible, but it seemed nobody was there to check activists of the ruling party who were running most of the extortion networks.
Truck driver Rafiqul Alam said that he had to pay money to extortionists at as many as 10 points on his way to Dhaka. He said that the extortion started at Dinajpur’s Birampur area where he had to pay Tk 20 for every cow. ‘Everywhere, they did not allow the truck to leave until I paid them money,’ he said.
He said he had paid the police Tk 300-400 for every cow in Sirajganj’s Hatikumrul, Tangail Bypass and Gazipur’s Chandra roundabout, Rafiqul added.
Anwar Hossain has come to Dhaka with 15 cattle from Chapainawabganj to sell those at Agargaon cattle market. He said that after paying over Tk 30,000 as truck fare, he had to pay around Tk 6,000 to extortionists at 16 spots on his way to the capital.
Cattle trader Babul Mia came to Kamalapur cattle market in Dhaka with 10 cattle on a truck from Faridpur. He told New Age that extortion was rampant at ferry terminals, particularly as Daulatdia.
‘Extortionists would not allow trucks to get on the ferry until they pay double the amount of the toll at the terminal,’ Babul added.
Kashem Bepari paid a total of Tk 1,800 to extortionists at different points while bringing cattle from Munshiganj’s Sirajdikhan to Dhaka. He said that trucks are not allowed to cross Postagola Bridge unless they pay Tk 500 each.
Md Asaduzzaman Mia, deputy inspector general of Police (highway range), however, flatly denied the allegation of extortion against the police. ‘The allegation is baseless. There are no incidents of extortion by police on highways,’ he said.
Bangladesh Truck-Covered Van Owners’ Association general secretary Mohammad Rustam Ali said that the extortion from transports carrying sacrificial animals before Eid-ul-Azha was nothing new and it seemed none could check it.
He said that DMP’s initiatives had curtailed extortion inside the capital, but there was no monitoring at the entry points of Dhaka as cattle traders and truck drivers were being forced to pay money at Tongi Bridge, Savar’s Aminbazar and Nabinagar, Mohammadpur’s Basila Bridge, Postagola Bridge and Kanchpur Bridge.
Transport sector sources said that cattle-carrying trucks coming from southern districts, including Kushtia, Jessore and Jhenaidah, were being forced to pay money to different labour organisations on Dhaka-Aricha highway, particularly at Aminbazar, Nabinagar and Aricha.
AIG (media) of police headquarters Jalaluddin said that cattle traders and truck drivers hardly lodged specific complaints about extortion. ‘Besides, they too often violate law that bans overloading.’