Over 10,000 CNG-run autorickshaws ply the Dhaka city streets illegally by bribing a syndicate of traffic policemen and middlemen.
Autorickshaws require a route permit for operating in the metropolitan area. Around 23,000 autorickshaws run in the capital and almost half of them do not have this permission.
The Daily Star has learnt this by talking to 20 drivers, and leaders of autorickshaw owners, drivers and workers associations.
These vehicles, usually registered in districts close to Dhaka, get into the capital in exchange for bribes. They add to traffic congestion and also hurt the earnings of the vehicles with route permits.
Over Tk 5 crore comes from bribes every month, and middlemen, traffic policemen and even high-ranking police officials get their cut, they said.
Rafiqul Islam, who heads the Dhaka district unit of the Four-Stroke Autorickshaw Drivers Union, said these autorickshaws enter the city through six points -- Jatrabari, Shyampur, Hazaribagh, Mohammadpur, Gabtoli and Abdullahpur.
The drivers pay the syndicate Tk 5,000 to Tk 7,000 a month to operate in the city and “the syndicate makes Tk 5 crore to Tk 6 crore a month”, he said.
A few correspondents of this paper went undercover in Jatrabari area recently to know the extent of the illegal practice.
They came across Abdur Rahim whose autorickshaw was registered in Narayanganj. He had been pulled over by one constable Masud near Jatrabari Police Box and Rahim was about to be fined.
Rahim contacted someone over the phone and said, “I repeatedly told him [Masud] it's TI [Traffic Inspector] Mostafiz Sir's CNG [autorickshaw]. But he won't pay any heed.”
He then requested Masud to talk to the person on the other end. A little hesitant Masud took the phone and said, “Hmm … Okay then talk to him. Sir [apparently Mostafiz] hasn't given me any instructions yet.”
By this time, Rahim's three-wheeler along with five other vehicles had their wheels clamped at the southeast corner of Jatrabari Police Box.
However, it was clamped only for 30 minutes.
The Daily Star correspondents saw Traffic Inspector Mostafiz arrive and ask Masud to let Rahim's vehicle go. The constable complied.
Before leaving, Rahim told the correspondents, “We give them [police] Tk 5,000 monthly, even after that this harassment. How much money do they need?”
TI Mostafiz brushed aside the allegations that he takes money to let such autorickshaws go.
“Many can bring allegations. But you've to deliver proof,” he said.
Asked about their procedures, he said there was a provision for impounding the illegal autorickshaws in the city but they make exceptions in case of emergencies, like transporting patients and examinees.
“In such cases, we just charge wrecker fees [towing fee] and let them go,” he said.
However, visiting the spots on October 31 and November 8, the correspondents found that a number of autorickshaws were held in front of the police box but none of those were carrying patients or examinees. They were all eventually let go.
HOW IT WORKS
Posing as clients, The Daily Star correspondents met one of the middlemen in Jurain who went by the name Patwary Billal.
“You'll have to give me Tk 5,000 [a month] to operate CNG [autorickshaw] in Dhaka. If you've any problem with driving licence or documentation, I will not be able to do anything. I will only ensure your free movement,” he said.
“From Jatrabari you will be able to go up to Shukrabad, up north you could go up to Jasimuddin Road of Uttara. You will have to skip Farmgate, Bijoy Sarani and Mohakhali areas since law enforcers are strict there,” he said.
“If any sergeant catches you, you will call me and I'll talk to the sergeant. You can be worry-free.
“Usually, when a senior officer catches these vehicles, they charge wrecker fee [towing fee]. You'll have to pay that. But be assured that the vehicle won't be dumped [impounded],” he said.
Refusing to disclose his profession, Patwary said, “He changes his identity with circumstances. When I talk to police I use a different identity but that's none of your concern.”
Another middleman, Anwar Bhandari of Shanir Akhra, said he manages three such autorickshaws this way.
“You better contact journalists Soljar and Taslima who work as linemen [middlemen],” said Anwar, adding that he did not know where the two worked. “You can reach them if you contact drivers at Jatrabari,” he added.
The Daily Star could not find the two after talking to several autorickshaw drivers at Jatrabari.
Rafiqul Islam said, “When an autorickshaw is pulled over, the driver contacts the respective sergeant or TI who then communicates with their colleagues to make sure the vehicle is allowed to go.”
Sergeant Tushar in Kuril Biswa Road area said they impound those autorickshaws but could not say how many they impound each day.
“You'd better talk to senior officers and they would be able to give you the number,” he said refuting allegations that they get a cut of the bribe.
Mosleh Uddin Ahmed, additional commissioner (Traffic), DMP, said he was not aware of any syndicates. Stern actions would be taken against the people involved if the allegation was found true, he added.
The drive against illegal CNG autorickshaws that enter Dhaka is going on. “We've strengthened our force to restrict their entrance at different points,” he claimed.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) Chairman Md Moshiar Rahman said the autorickshaws pulled over for illegally plying the streets of Dhaka were supposed to be impounded.
“We conduct regular mobile court drives to check this. But, it is largely the duty of the police to monitor it and send the CNG autorickshaws to the dumping ground [impound],” he said.
Sakhawat Hossain Dulal, member-secretary of Dhaka Zila Autorickshaw and Mishuk Drivers and Workers' Union, said, “Let's allow these autorickshaws in the capital … we're willing to pay the government for this but not bribe the police.”