Cops collect toll for use of road
Police are forcibly and illegally taking money in the name of “parking tolls” from any car using the road in front of the Dhaka International Trade Fair (DITF) in Agargaon.
The road that connects Rokeya Sarani with Mirpur Road -- on which several important establishments like public schools and hospitals, including Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital, are located -- has also been made off-limits to regular traffic.
Exceptions are made only for those working and living in Agargaon and Sher-e-Bangla Nagar areas.
This particular stretch of the road becomes especially important for vehicles on Rokeya Sarani to cut through to Mirpur Road when Crescent Road remains closed for security of the prime minister's residence, Gono Bhaban.
Though the job of parking fee collection there is usually leased out to private firms, the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), the main organiser of the month-long yearly fair, this year has given the job to police, that too without tender.
Several thousand vehicles use the road regularly, according to a former in-charge of a police box there.
They all are being forced to pay the “parking fee” since the fair began on January 1 even though they are simply driving by the venue, and not going to the fair.
"I often use this road from my home at Geneva Camp at Mohammadpur to my workplace in Banani. It saves a lot of time," said Shampa Parveen.
"But now the [CNG-run] auto-rickshaws, which I usually hire to go to work, do not want to take the road to avoid the toll," she added.
Amir Hossain, a private service holder, felt it extremely irritating when cops stopped his car near the Election Commission office and demanded “parking fee” five days back.
"I said I was going to a hospital in Shyamoli to visit a patient, but they forced me to pay the toll anyway."
A youth, who was returning from Shahjalal airport to Mohammadpur in his car, claimed to have experienced the same.
"Some constables stopped me at the Gono Bhaban end [of the road] and asked for Tk 20 in parking fee. Initially, I refused to pay them, saying I was simply passing through the area and not going to the fair. But eventually I had to comply."
Visiting the venue on Monday and Tuesday, these correspondents found that traffic sergeants and constables -- some in uniforms and some in special vests -- were not allowing vehicles to use the road without the parking fee.
The toll is Tk 10 for CNG-run auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and motorcycles and Tk 20 for private cars and microbuses.
Goods-carrying pickups and covered vans have to buy multiple tickets, meaning they have to pay more, alleged some drivers.
About 200 policemen are regularly deployed for collecting the fee and managing vehicle parking and overall traffic there, said officials at the traffic control room at the fairground.
The number of personnel rises to around 250 on weekends, they added.
These cops are deployed despite the fact that the Dhaka Metropolitan Police has manpower shortage, a reason it often cites for failing to properly control traffic in the city.
QUESTIONS OVER THE LEASE
A former inspector general of police, wishing anonymity, said police cannot take lease of something in exchange for money.
"The law allows the police to close roads in public interest. But I do not think any public interest is being served here," he told The Daily Star.
Another senior police official, also asking not to be named because of office policy, said the law did not either prohibit or permit the police to engage in such enterprises.
But the police have long been running businesses for the welfare of its members. It is a matter of tradition, rather than service rules and laws, he said by phone yesterday.
The police paid Tk 13.2 lakh to get the contract for collecting parking tolls at the DITF venue. It was approved in a meeting of the commerce ministry, said EPB officials.
EPB Vice-chairman Shubhashish Bose confirmed that the contract was awarded to the police without tender.
The police wrote a letter to the EPB requesting for the contract, saying the earnings would be spent for the police welfare association.
Imtiaz Ahmed, Deputy Commissioner (Traffic-West) of the DMP denied collecting parking fees from any vehicle taking the road.
And the deployment of traffic police at the fair venue is not hampering their regular duties on city roads, he claimed.
Contacted, DMP Commissioner Asaduzzaman Miah claimed no directives were issued to close the road to regular traffic.
"If there is any such incident, I will look into it and take necessary steps," he told The Daily Star over the phone on Monday.
EPB Deputy Director (Finance) Rezaul Karim said on Thursday that they had received allegations that police were collecting extra money in parking toll and barring locals and staff of private offices from using the road.
The EPB would send a letter to the police authorities in a day or two for an end to the alleged harassment, he added.