Mahadi Hasan Badhon, back from Sunamganj
Under the patronage of local influential and administration, a group of miscreants are collecting huge amount of extortions from the sand and stone traders of Sunamganj. No trader, boat owner or boatman is allowed to operate their businesses at Anwarpur, Pathanpur, Durlavpur, Soala, Hagra, Fatehpur, Fazilpur and Lawrargor areas in the district without paying toll to the armed extortionists.
During a spot visit at different upazilas of Sunamganj in last week, local traders and some boatmen also shared their grisly experience with this correspondent alleging that police collect extortion money from seven to eight different points, taking a total of Tk 14,000 from each trawler loaded with sand, coal or stone.
“We can’t move with our sand or stone-loaded boat or trawler without paying toll to extortionists and cops. If we refuse to pay, they threaten us to kill in many ways. If this continues, it will not be possible for us to operate our business,” said a trader frustratingly.
On information from locals, this correspondent along with a group of newsmen on Monday caught some police personnel red-handed collecting extortion money from a big trawler loaded with coal at Jamalganj area in Sunamganj. Sensing presence of journalists, some police officials fled the scene by their trawler.
But, Jamalganj police station ASI Anwar, who claimed his name to be Golam Mostafa, was seen bargaining with boatmen for money at mid-river. Asked why the money is being collected, the police official said, “We came here as some robbers attacked this trawler.” But, drivr of the trawler, one Titu, said in presence of the police official, “No robber attacked our trawler. He (Anwar) in association with other police officials claimed money from us. We gave him Tk 300 but they claimed more.”
Later, other police officials from Jamalganj police station came to the spot and took all boatmen along with trawler to the police station. Contacted on Thursday, Titu said, “After taking me to the police station, Anwar tied my hand with rope and claimed Tk 5000 to the bolgate owner.” After negotiating with the owner, the police released me, he said.
Alam, 32, boatman from another trawler, said, “Earlier, robbers used to attack our boats and snatched away our money. But now, police extort huge amount of money in the name of toll from us at least from seven to eight points of Sunamganj.” Apart from this, allegations have been raised of collecting toll from boats, cargos, bolgates and other water vehicles at different ghats of the district in name of leasing the ghats.
At different river ghats of the district, this correspondent found hanging toll charts, persons collecting tolls as per the chart. Local people fearing harassment by extortionists are reluctant to raise their voice against the miscreants. Some local boatmen from Thirpur of Sunamganj seeking anonymity said, “We are very afraid of local influential people and extortionists. If we give any statement about their extortion, they would kill us, it does not matter for them.” Asked about the extortion, Tahirpur police station OC Asaduzzaman Hawlader told Bangladesh Post, “No one have submitted any complaint about this matter. If any complaint is filed, we will take necessary action against them.”