A clique of fraudsters is in town. There is no job, yet they are swindling huge sums of money out of poor people by promising them work in the Padma bridge project.
In their enterprise, these tricksters are selling the names of the army and the Bridges Division to net between Tk 5,000 and Tk 30,000 from the impoverished people of different districts in security deposit for a "job" of construction worker.
They are approaching people with fake authorisation letters of the army and recruitment forms of the Bridges Division.
The truth is the army got a consultancy job in the project, and it does not require any workers. But the name of army is being used to gain people's confidence and make some quick bucks, officials of the Padma bridge project have told The Daily Star.
Neither the law enforcers nor this newspaper have been able to trace any
of these scamsters. However, these correspondents have obtained a copy of an "authorisation letter" purportedly issued to one Nusrat Traders. According to the "authorisation letter," one Nazir Ahmed is its owner.
The letter bears the name of Bangladesh Army and its logo while the recruitment form carries the letterhead of Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project.
A Dhaka-based trader from Gopalganj got a sub-contract from Nusrat Traders to recruit labourers. On condition of anonymity, he told The Daily Star that about 1,000 people were ready to pay but he scrapped the recruitment plan after finding out that the whole thing was a scam.
He said he tried to contact this Nazir Ahmed over the phone after he came to know that it was all fake, but he failed.
“The fraudsters should be arrested before more people can be cheated,” he said.
In efforts to cheat as many people as they can, this gang has even published advertisements in national dailies that 40,000 people will be recruited for four years and no one will get the job once the quota is filled.
Several hundred people in Madaripur, Shariatpur, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Munshiganj, Comilla, Magura, Jhenidah and Jessore districts have already been deceived over the last one month, sources told The Daily Star.
One such victim from Kashiani upazila of Gopalganj said he paid an advance of Tk 5,000 to a local "recruiter".
“I filled in a form with my personal details. I will pay Tk 10,000 more before I start working at the Padma bridge project,” he said.
He, too, declined to give his name, fearing he would lose the job if his name was published in the media. He would not name his "recruiter" either.
Another man of Gopalganj Sadar also gave a similar account.
Contacted, Gopalganj Deputy Commissioner Khalilur Rahman said he was aware of the recruitment advertisement but he did not know that people were already paying the recruiters.
“I saw advertisements regarding this in newspapers but I haven't received any instruction from the ministry yet,” he added.
The fact is neither the communications ministry nor the army has any involvement in the recruitment process. No order or permission has been given to any company or individual in this regard.
“Only a few hundred people may be recruited once the construction begins,” said Shafiqul Islam, director of the Padma bridge project.
He said the company, which would be selected for the construction of the main bridge and river training, would hire the workers from its own country.
Three firms from South Korea and China have submitted financial and technical proposals for constructing the main bridge. Evaluation of the proposals is to be completed by next month.
Besides, five companies from the US, France and India are vying for the job of river training while the Bridges Division has issued Request for Proposal to five short-listed firms for appointing a construction supervision consultant.
The Bridges Division has recently published advertisements in different newspapers, saying it has noticed a gang of fraudsters are misleading people in different areas and taking money from them by promising jobs in the project.
“No recruitment process is underway at the moment…. The Padma bridge authorities won't shoulder responsibilities if anyone is cheated,” it added.
The Division has also alerted the deputy commissioners of different districts.
“We have published advertisements and instructed the deputy commissioners concerned to make people aware of the deception,” Bridges Division Secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam said.
Asked who are behind this all, Communications Minister Obaidul Quader said, “Some vested quarters that do not want the completion of the project are behind the evil plot.
“I hope the army will take measures to save people from being cheated.”
Contacted, a spokesman of the Armed Forces Division said they were informed of this by the Bridges Division.
The Padma bridge project was initially scheduled to begin in 2010. But that did not happen as donor agencies cancelled the funding in 2012 over alleged corruption conspiracies involving former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain in hiring a Canadian consultancy firm, SNC-Lavalin.
The government then decided to construct the 6.15km rail-road bridge with its own funds.
According to the Bridges Division's estimate, the bridge would cost Tk 20,507 crore or $2.9 billion.