Extortionists prey on helpless vendors
12:00 AM, June 15, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:19 AM, June 15, 2018

Extortionists prey on helpless vendors

City police, political goons make easy money ahead of Eid

Street vendors in the capital have to pay much more as extortion ahead of Eid-ul Fitr, further impacting their day-to-day income. The money collected by “linemen” goes to the pockets of police, men introducing themselves as associates of ruling party men and political goons, among others.

The President of National Hawkers Federation, Arif Chowdhury, told The Daily Star that before Ramadan “linemen” used to realise Tk 100 to Tk 120 per day from street vendors at Motijheel but they increased the amount about 10 days ago to around Tk 500.

He alleged that police, ruling party men and political goons, were the key players in this racket. His allegations were supported by similar claims by various hawkers.

Arif said the money was taken because the businesses were illegal. He also said no receipt or token was issued against the money.

Arif said that there were 11 such linemen at Motijheel and 26 at Gulistan.

“I met some of the linemen after the rate was raised and they told me it was due to the pressure the police and administration were under to evict the hawkers,” he said, adding that  the linemen said they now have to spend more to “manage” the police and administration.

They also told Arif that different political parties and local goons had also begun demanding more money from the linemen every day.

The association president added that hawker leaders always had cases filed against them so they could not organise and protest any injustice.

A hawker at Farm Gate, preferring anonymity, said he had to pay Tk 400 per day to linemen.

Elsewhere in Karwan Bazar, a female fruit vendor said they sold fruits at the spot throughout the year and paid toll to six groups, including police, cleaners and transgender people, for 'leasing' the footpaths.

When this correspondent visited Karwan Bazar footpath yesterday afternoon, he saw a youth extorting each vendor for Tk 50. Before Eid, it was Tk 20.

Some truck and pick up van drivers told The Daily Star that a large amount of toll -- ranging from Tk 200 to Tk 500 -- was being collected from them every night as parking fees. Before Eid, they paid Tk 20 to Tk 50.

A lineman, preferring anonymity, said that they were hired to serve the interests of many different groups. The money they collected would then be distributed among all of them, with the linemen also taking a cut.

When asked why hawkers were forced to pay the toll, the lineman said because the vendors were illegally conducting business on public spaces, they were often harassed by police and local goons. The linemen would ensure that no harassment took place. For this, they charged the toll. 

Elsewhere, the story of what happens one does not pay the toll emerged.

On June 5, a local tea vendor filed a case against four members of the law enforcement agency for allegedly vandalising her tea stall as she had refused to pay “extortion money”.

Maksuda, 47, owner of a tea stall located in Baridhara (J block) area, filed a case with Metropolitan Magistrate court against a sub-inspector and two constables of Bhatara Police Station, and an Ansar member, over the matter.

Two of the accused were identified as Sub-inspector (SI) Hasan Masud and constable Jakir while identities of the other could not be known immediately.

According to the case statement, the SI, along with the three others, tried to extort her Tk 10,000 on May 30. As she refused, they vandalised her shop, the statement read.

Contacted, Hasan said he was informed about the matter and claimed that Maksuda was lying.

"We told her to remove her tea stall from there as it was getting in the way of people. As she did not take initiative, we had to remove her shop from there", he said.

Deputy Commissioner (Media) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Masudur Rahman said they had received no such complaints. “If someone complains and if we find proof, will take action,” he said. 

There are an estimated 13 lakh hawkers all over the country, with 3 lakh permanent and floating hawkers in Dhaka city.

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