Irregularities are rife at Gabtoli cattle market as its lessee has been collecting additional charges from meat traders and renting out shops to small traders inside the market illegally.
The Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), who leases out the market, seems to have no control over the property with the same individual winning the lease for the market for 12 consecutive years and making illegal money.
The DNCC estate department has apparently been helping the lessee continue such illegal activities by not taking punitive actions against it.
According to an estimate of meat traders, around 1,000 cattle are traded at the market every day.
The corporation has fixed charges for each cow and buffalo at Tk 100 and Tk 150 respectively. But many traders alleged that the lessee, Lutfor Rahman, has been charging them up to Tk 400, pushing meat prices up in city markets.
Going beyond his jurisdiction, Lutfor has set up over 100 shops in the city's lone permanent cattle market and has been earning money in rent.
“The lessee is making money with the help of some unscrupulous officials of the city corporation,” alleged Robiul Alam, acting general secretary of Dhaka Metropolitan Meat Merchant Association.
Visiting the market twice recently, this correspondent found that people collecting additional charges from meat traders.
A meat trader who preferred to be unnamed said he bought 10 buffalos and paid Tk 250 as toll charge for each.
“On top of that, I had to pay another Tk 50 for each buffalo to take the cattle out of the market before 12:00am,” he said, adding traders would not be allowed to take cattle out of the market before midnight without paying the extra money.
Lutfor, however, refuted the allegations of collecting extra charges and renting out shops.
SHOPS ALL AROUND
There are hotels, tea stalls, barber shops, mobile phone credit recharge, stationary and contractual butcher shops at the cattle market. A recent fire from a tea stall at the market left 22 cattle dead.
Lutfor earns Tk 1,000 to Tk 6,000 a month from each shop and collects another Tk 1,000 from each for supplying water, said some shopkeepers.
Asked about the shops, DNCC Chief Estate Officer Aminul Islam said Lutfor might have rented out shops considering the necessity of the buyers and traders.
“We carried out several drives at the market and found that he [Lutfor] only collects electricity bills from shopkeepers.”
The city corporation would surely take action if anyone came up with specific allegations of irregularities, said Aminul. “We might even cancel the lease of the market.”
Under the lease rules, the divisional commissioner can overrule the decision of the chief executive officer of a city corporation to lease out a market if it fails to spend 45 percent of the lease money in the maintenance of the respective market and if irregularities are found.
Dhaka Divisional Commissioner Helaluddin Ahmed said they would summon DNCC officials if they received any written allegations of irregularities.
“We'll hold a hearing on the allegations and if their answers are not found to be satisfactory, legal actions will be taken against them as per rules,” he added.
The DNCC floats tender in Magh (Bengali calendar) every year to lease out the cattle market and the contract comes into effect on Pahela Baishakh, the Bangla New Year.
The corporation this year fixed a minimum tender price of Tk 12.7 crore, but Lutfor quoted Tk 11.17 crore and won the bid as the “highest bidder”.
However, sometimes it cannot complete the tender process in time. For example, this year's contract was in force on Baishakh 15.
Although the city corporation's mandate allows it to collect charges directly during the lease lapse period, it didn't do so.
Meat merchant association leader Robiul alleged that the DNCC estate department collected charges through the lessee during that period and plundered the money.
In case of any delay in the tender process, the corporation is supposed to take over the toll collection of the cattle market and form a committee comprising of the DNCC chief executive officer, secretary, zonal executive officer, chief estate officer, director of Local Government Division, a representative of the DC office and the councillor of ward-9 to ensure transparency in toll collection.
Contacted, all but the chief estate officer said they had no idea about how the toll was collected during the 15 days this year.
“We collected Khas [toll charges] through outsourcing,” claimed DNCC Chief Estate Officer Aminul Islam.
Asked about the name of the outsourced firm, Aminul said his subordinate officers knew about it.
The other officials remained tight-lipped about the name.
Sanwar Hossain, manager of the Gabtoli cattle market lessee firm, said: “We collected Khas for the city corporation last year, but I can't remember what happened this year.”
TOLL HIKED 'ARBITRARILY'
The estate department increased the toll rate this year from Tk 50 and 70 to Tk 100 and 150 for each cow and buffalo respectively after the city corporation had invited bids through newspaper advertisements.
Traders said the estate department didn't consult them about hiking the toll rate although it had earlier promised traders of holding talks with them prior to making any such decision.
Asked about the reason for hiking the rate, Aminul told this correstpondent, “You better talk to the chief health officer who led the committee that increased the toll.”
DNCC Chief Health Officer Brig Gen SMM Saleh Bhuiyan said a proposal was sent to the committee to increase the toll rate, but the committee didn't accept it.