Donning vests that say "DSCC Toll Collector", they move around Gulistan, Jai Kali Mandir Road (between Thathari Bazar and Wari), Motijheel, Fulbaria, Azimpur and Laxmibazar (near Bahadur Shah Park) in the capital -- signaling commercial vehicles to stop.
Some of these toll collectors are quite energetic. Oftentimes they run behind vehicles whose drivers are mostly baffled to see the signal to stop in the middle of the road.
Though collecting tolls at a terminal or designated point may be a normal practice, many things are wrong in the abovementioned situation.
First of all, even though the toll is being collected in the name of terminals, there is none. Secondly, this collection is going on violating a government order. And lastly, it's being collected in the middle of the road in the name of road repair, as per the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC).
These tolls range from Tk 10 to Tk 60 and are collected from CNG-run auto rickshaws, human haulier, pickup vans, minibuses and buses.
DSCC introduced the levy on different modes of transports from terminals, a move that people involved in the sector have termed illegal and violation of a government order.
DSCC leased out the two "terminals" -- Gulistan-Jai Kali Mandir (Saydabad) bus terminal and Fulbaria bus terminal -- to Uttara Chaka and Minhaz Enterprise respectively, on November 11 and October 13 last year.
Mentionable, Uttara Chaka won the bid at Tk 2.93 crore while Minhaz Enterprise secured the one-year contract at Tk 2.50 crore.
According to the one-year contract, the two companies have been authorised to collect tolls from commercial transports from the two terminals -- which do not exist.
The amount collected is kept by the companies.
DSCC also allowed the two companies to collect toll in the name of stopover terminals from over two dozen designated points of the city under its jurisdiction.
Transport insiders, however, said the two terminals do not fall in the category of bus terminals as those do not provide any amenities associated with one.
They said this "toll collection" is nothing less than an "institutionalised extortion". Besides, the companies seem to be in a mad race for making as much money as they can, they alleged.
They also said collecting tolls at different points on the street is a violation of a government order. The lessees even collect tolls from trucks and rickshaw-vans, violating contracts, they alleged.
Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers' Federation, said Fulbaria, Jatrabari, Ittefaq crossing, Demra and Natyamancha at Gulistan are not terminals.
"A terminal is a place where a restroom, washroom and some other facilities should be in place," Osman told The Daily Star recently.
He also said as per a contract between the LGRD ministry and bus owners, the city corporations cannot collect tolls from roads.
DSCC has even authorised the two companies to collect tolls from vehicles at kitchen markets and from roads, alleged Osman, adding that some people are collecting tolls from truckers at night.
He said they have already raised the issue with DSCC authorities.
"The way the city corporation is collecting tolls, it might force the owners to stop operating their buses," he warned.
The LGRD ministry in a letter issued on December 3, 2015, said collecting tolls from highways by setting up boxes and other means by the city corporations and municipalities instead of designated bus or truck terminals is illegal.
The letter also directed all concerned to refrain from such harassment.
Contacted recently, Mohammad Nure Alam Siddiqui, joint secretary of the Local Government Division, said they were not aware of the DSCC decision.
"They [DSCC] did not inform us," said Siddiqui.
He also mentioned that the LGRD directive on city corporations and municipalities is still valid.
Asked, Supreme Court lawyer Shafiqul Islam Babul said collecting toll from roads without providing any terminal facility is not logical.
"They [DSCC] should have held meetings with the home ministry, BRTA, Road Transport Owners' Association, Road Transport Workers' Association and other stakeholders before imposing it," he said.
COMPLAINTS POUR IN
Visiting different city points recently, this correspondent saw the toll collectors at work.
At Jai Kali Mandir, a toll collector was seen running behind a pick-up van and stopped it near a filling station, around 200 metres away from the spot they were collecting tolls.
The driver Mohammad Aslam reluctantly paid Tk 30.
"I'm carrying goods from our factory to deliver it to Gulshan. I have not used any terminal… why should they charge me?" said a frustrated Aslam.
Kalu Sheikh, managing director of Moumita Paribahan, said they are operating around 150 busses from Chandra to Narayanganj.
"We pay parking fees at Gabtali Terminal and to Narayanganj City Corporation. But DSCC is now collecting Tk 40 from each bus from Bakshibazar point although we don't park our buses at Gulistan," he said.
Mohammad Barkat Ullah Bhulu, president of Dhaka Mahanagar Auto-rickshaw Beboshayee Malik Samity, said due to acute shortage of parking facilities in the city, their drivers are already paying traffic penalty every day.
"We are already paying fines to police for illegal parking… now DSCC is taking terminal fees from us without even giving us any terminal facility," he said.
Khandaker Enayet Hossain, secretary general of Dhaka Sarak and Paribahan Owners' Association, said they are not against paying tolls. "But DSCC will have to ensure that there are terminals for us," he said.
He expressed dissatisfaction over the rise in toll fees -- at Fulbaria from Tk 20 to Tk 40, at Gulistan from Tk 30 to Tk 60 and at Sayedabad from Tk 40 to Tk 60.
ALL IN NAME OF ROAD REPAIR
Contacted, ABM Aminullah Nuri, chief executive officer of DSCC, said they have introduced it to stop illegal toll collection and bring the system under discipline and a legal framework.
Asked why they are collecting tolls in the name of terminals when there are no proper terminals in the areas, and as well as from roads, Nuri said, "We are collecting tolls as vehicles are using DSCC roads and the city corporation has to spend money to repair it. We are only collecting tolls from commercial transports."
Regarding the allegations of illegal and additional toll collections, the DSCC CEO said they have already instructed police to take necessary steps in this regard.
"We will also conduct mobile court drives to stop that," he assured.
Contacted, Md Altaf Masud, managing director of Uttara Chaka, said some people unbeknownst to them collected toll from trucks initially.
"We have instructed our people not to take tolls from trucks," said Masud. He said they have also informed the police station concerned to take action against this illegal toll collection.
He said they are not charging extra money from vehicles beyond the DSCC assigned rate.
Md Shaifur Rahman, proprietor of Minhaz Enterprise, also said they do not take any extra money from vehicles.
He, however, alleged that they do not get tolls from many vehicles though they were supposed to pay tolls as per the contract. He said they are taking tolls from the designated places as per the contract with DSCC.