The tale of one TTE, a minister’s wife and her relatives
The suspension of travelling ticket examiner (TTE) Shafiqul Islam has already been withdrawn.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan today admitted that his wife lodged a complaint against the travelling ticket examiner (TTE), who fined three individuals who had been travelling without tickets, claiming to be the minister's relatives. He also confirmed that the three passengers are indeed his relatives. The minister, however, said his wife did not ask the railway authorities to suspend the TTE. She simply lodged a complaint against him. Through all these incidents, the issue has neither been resolved, nor has it reached a conclusion. Instead, some serious issues have been unearthed, which demand that we carefully analyse this string of events.
TTE Shafiqul Islam fined three passengers who were travelling without tickets. This action prompted the Pakshey Division of Bangladesh Railways (BR) to temporarily suspend him. The punishment was delivered swiftly. So swiftly that Shafiqul had to be informed through a telephone call. Md Nasir Uddin, Pakshey divisional commercial officer (DCO) of the railway, said that the TTE had been suspended due to misbehaving with passengers.
On behalf of the three passengers, Md Emrul Kayes Pranto filed a complaint with the railway's high officials, accusing the TTE of misbehaving with them. The DCO provided a written statement to The Daily Star's Pabna representative, Ahmed Topu. The Daily Star also talked with Shafiqul. None of the three passengers could be reached for comments. Pranto did not leave his contact details on the complaint; he only included his name and the date.
Let us start off with the written complaint. He mentioned that he could not collect any tickets from the Ishwardi railway station counter at around 2:15 AM. As the train arrived, he got into the AC compartment in a hurry. The TTE came to check the ticket within 30 minutes. The TTE asked for Tk 1,500 (500 each), but refused to provide a receipt.
Allegedly, in an irritated tone, he added, "Does your father own this train?"
Emrul Kayes wrote in the complaint that TTE Shafiqul Islam appeared to be intoxicated.
TTE Shafiqul Islam denied the allegations to The Daily Star, saying they were completely untrue. That nothing like that had happened. The three had identified themselves as the railway minister's relatives. But as per the law, Shafiqul collected Tk 1,050 from them, gave them receipts and sent them to the "Shovon" class. The TTE also mentioned that other railway officials were present at the scene. According to railway rules, travelling without a ticket is a punishable offence.
It is normal for a TTE to check tickets within 30 minutes of the beginning of a train journey. If a passenger gets on the train without a ticket in case of an emergency, the TTE will collect the fare from them, along with a fine. The passenger will be able to continue the journey upon showing the receipt. However, he or she will not be allowed to occupy a seat. If someone tries to exert power and expect special benefits by citing a relationship with the railway minister, it is only natural that a dispute will break out. In such a situation, the possibility of imposing a double fine cannot be written off. TTEs asking for bribes isn't something that will surprise many, either. Such incidents regularly occur on trains. All the allegations deserve to be investigated.
A three-member investigation committee was formed in order to explore the complaints and the overall incident. But no such investigation took place.
The DCO, in his written statement to The Daily Star, has repeated Pranto's statement word-by-word. Pranto alleged that the TTE seemed intoxicated. DCO Nasir wrote, "The complainers felt that TTE Shafiqul Islam was under the influence of drugs." But without conducting an investigation, how could he make such derogatory comments to the media?
Additionally, Nasir also mentioned, "Shafiqul Islam suffers from an inferiority complex. He is also suffering from some kind of mental stigma."
Was his choice of words against his colleague lawful and ethical–and that, too, based on an individual's complaint, one who didn't even leave behind their contact details?
No high-ups or the railways minister have so far commented on Nasir's statement.
In the last 50 years of Bangladesh Railway's history, such prompt action against an almost "anonymous tip" is unprecedented. Our minister, however, thinks such "prompt" action a sign of "progress"!
Initially, the minister denied knowing the three individuals. However, later on, he identified and accepted them as his relatives. Did the minister's wife lodge a "complaint" or ask for the TTE to be fired during her phone call to the railway officer?
Apart from the minister's answer, this is what we have gathered from Ekattor TV reporter Parvez Reza's report:
Pranto's mother, Yasmin Akhter Neepa, told Ekattor TV in a phone call, "The minister's wife is her cousin. She came to visit Ishwardi during the Eid holidays." She also mentioned that the minister's wife gave a heads-up to the station manager about her son, Pranto, travelling with two other individuals.
However, after the TTE created a commotion regarding tickets, the minister's wife called him. But the TTE did not pick up the phone. Instead, he fined them and verbally abused them. Later on, the minister's wife called up the DCO and asked him to fire the TTE. Pranto's mother, Yasmin Akhter, was asked whether the minister knew about the incident.
She claimed that she had spoken to the railways minister the very next day. Minister Nurul Islam Sujan had told her that he was forced to mention certain things about the incident to assuage the public.
Neepa also alleged that the minister had asked her to ignore whatever he had mentioned during the press conference.
So, how should we summarise the incident?
We can detect an attempt to bury the incident by revoking the suspension order of TTE Shafiqul Islam and the railways minister's acceptance of responsibility for his relatives' behaviour.
The answer to the question of how a seemingly random individual's (Pranto) complaint and DCO Nasir's statement became identical is no longer unknown. It is also not a mystery whether the minister knew about the decision to suspend TTE Shafiqul Islam or whether he himself ordered the suspension. If the minister did not know about the suspension, are we to believe that the minister's wife simply called a high-ranking officer of a public organisation, based on which, he suspended another officer? Does this mean Bangladesh Railway is a puppet to a minister's spouse's will?
Now, the railways minister must face a few more questions for the sake of the public:
1. Why did he initially feign not knowing of the three individuals who tried travelling without tickets?
2. His wife called the Ishwardi Station Manager to inform him about three of her relatives travelling by train. Did she ask him to set aside tickets for them, or to allow them to travel without tickets?
3. Did his wife call the railways officer of Pakshey to "complain" about TTE Shafiqul Islam, or did she ask him to "fire" the person, as claimed by Pranto's mother?
4. DCO Nasir used derogatory terms like "intoxicated," "suffering from inferiority complex" and "psychological stigma" while referring to Shafiqul Islam, without conducting any investigation or verification of the facts. What would be the minister's comment regarding this?
5. Was this the first such call from the railways minister's wife, or is she in the habit of making such calls?
6. Why did the railways minister "deny" knowing the three individuals initially? Can a sworn minister of the cabinet hide the truth or deny it?
7. If the answer to the above question is "no," what does the constitution tell us about his next steps?
Golam Mortoza is editor of The Daily Star Bangla.