Ruling party men are extorting money from the operators of bus, truck and CNG-run auto-rickshaws in and around Bogra town round the clock, victims have alleged.
The aggregate amount that is extorted in Bogra -- the northern hub of road transportation -- is roughly estimated at Tk 800 million a year.
A The media investigation has found that leaders of the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and its front organisations - Juba League and Swechchhasebak League - are collecting the money in the name of owners' association, labourers' federation and labour association, which, too, are dominated by the ruling party leaders.
They have allegedly made the Bogra district as a heaven of extortion, the root cause of almost all other crimes.
The AL leaders and activists have built a consensus among themselves by dividing different areas for extortion, said those who are forced to pay the money.
"The way they are doing extortion is simply robbery. It's happening before the eyes of everyone including the administration officials," one of them said.
When asked, deputy commissioner Nure Alam Siddique said he was not in a position to do anything without receiving any formal complaint.
People from different walks of life informed The media that those who are involved with extortion are also involved with murder, smuggling, sales of drugs and illegal grabbing of properties and various other crimes.
Asked why extortion is so rampant in Bogra, member of parliament (MP) from Bogra sadar constituency Nurul Islam told The media on 17 December that he is an MP from what he claimed as the opposition bench held by Jatiya Party (JaPa).
Asked if he could avoid liability of criminal activities in this constituency, he said, “I cannot avoid my responsibility, and I cannot also take responsibility for that. Now, you have to daw your conclusion.”
The AL holds only two of seven parliamentary constituencies in Bogra. JaPa has four MPs and Jatiyatabadi Samajtantrik Dal (JASAD) one.
Around 14,000 vehicles commute between Dhaka and the northern region through Jamuna bridge, Bogra highway police superintendent Mostafizur Rahman informed The media on 13 December. Almost 60 per cent or 9,000 of those vehicles commute via Bogra.
Extortion thru sharing
Some victim motor workers and collectors of extortion informed this correspondent that they collect Tk 450 from each bus every day. In this way, they collect around Tk 900,000 from 2,000 buses daily and around Tk 324 million annually.
The amount of annual collection from around 3,000 goods-carrying trucks is roughly the same. Another Tk 150 million is collected from CNG-run auto-rickshaws, according to said.
On 12 December, a bus driver said they pay Tk 200 as expenditure of Motor Sramik Union, Tk 70 for inter-district no objection certificate, Tk 50 to Bogra motor owners' group, Tk 50 as municipality toll, Tk 20 each to Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, and labour welfare foundation, Tk 10 for building a labour welfare hospital and Tk 30 to Bogra coach and micro labourers' union.
Some truck owners said they pay extortion at Tinmatha, Chaarmatha, and Matidali intersections and Mahasthan, Mokamtola and on the second bypass at Subgram, and Sujabad points twice a day and at Satmatha at night only.
Bogra district Sramik League general secretary Samsuddin Sheikh controls daytime extortion while Motor Sramik Union president Abdul Latif Mandal controls night-time extortion, local sources said.
“We collect money for the welfare of the labourers. I do not spend this money for my personal benefits,” Shamsuddin told The media at the office of the councillor of ward no. 4 of Bogra municipality on 13 December.
Asked about the types of welfare activities, he said, “We pay for the workers’ funerals, for marriage of their daughters and for their treatment.”
There are 5,500 registered CNG-run auto-rickshaws in Bogra sadar and another 14,500 in the district. One needs Tk 5,000 at once to be a member of the owners’ association. Besides, they need to pay Tk 20-50 every day.
Leaders of Awami League, Juba League, Swechchhesebak League and Sramik League control this 'business'.
Bogra city AL joint convener Shahadat Hossain and Juba League leaders named Ekramul Kabir, Sangram Kumar Das and Latiful Karim effectively rule Duttabari and Chelapara areas.
AL leader Monzurul Alam on 14 December told The media that he had no involvement with that. He added that he was staying at a mosque for religious activities and would stay there for a few days more.
District AL organising secretary AKM Asadur Rahman controls the Satmatha-Sherpur road area while Juba League leader Alhajj Sheikh and Sramik League leader Samsuddin control the Gohail road and station road areas respectively.
Juba League leader Abdul Matin Sarkar’s younger brother and Sramik League leader Tufan Sarkar, who is accused in rape and women repression case, used to collect extortion from battery-run auto-rickshaws there.
When asked, district AL president Momtaz Uddin said on 12 December, “Extortion is everywhere in the country. Why are you targeting Bogra?”
Complaints against police
The police of the district were also allegedly involved in extortion and what is locally called ‘arrest trade’ [making money by threatening someone to arrest or showing him/her arrested].
As many as 50 people held a press conference on 27 December last year, accusing the police of doing ‘arrest trade’.
Sachetan Nagarik Committee, Bogra, and Bogra District Sector Commanders Forum’s president Masudur Rahman on Thursday said, “The extortion in Bogra is being committed by the ruling party men with the help of the administration. This extortion won’t be stopped by protests from general public until the high-ups make interventions.”
Bogra police superintendent Md Asaduzzaman denied the allegations.
He said, “So far I’ve come to know that extortion is taken in the name of some organisations. If anyone raises any complaint to the police, we will take action.”
Other crimes centring extortion
There is a conflict between members of AL and its affiliated bodies.
The Juba League has two groups. Suspended Juba League’s joint secretary Matin Sarkar patronises one group while another group is led by district AL joint general secretary Monzurul Alam Mohan.
Local people said these two groups are the patrons of all forms of crimes in the district.
Investigations have found that as many as 36 people were murdered on political grounds in the past 12 years. Of them, 20 persons were killed in just 7 years and most of incidents took place over extortion.
The extortion syndicate further controls the illegal drug trade mainly in Chak Sutrapur, the heart of the drug trade.
Bogra sadar police station officers said on 26 May that in 2013 district Juba League leader Mojnu Mia and his nephew Nahid Hassan were killed following an altercation over allocation of extortion money.
On 27 April in 2010, Rajapur union Juba League president Shafiqul Islam was killed over establishing supremacy in Matidali area.
The Badurtala and Haddipatti area are called ‘drug hubs’ of yaba pills, heroin and phensidyle.
Locals said students, children of affluent families, political leaders and activists and supporters of public representatives are the prime customers.
Now suspended Juba League leader Abdul Matin Sarkar was caught red-handed with drugs on 24 August 2012.
Monzurul Alam, who now has rivalry with Sarkar over extortion, then led a huge procession demanding release of Sarkar.
Local people said the district administration is nothing, but a nominal body. Bogra is actually run by some ruling party leaders who maintain good liaison with the officials.