Business behind police boxes

Nexus of some advertising agencies and cops flout rules to set up about 350 structures on pavements, intersections for quick money
A group of advertising agencies in connivance with traffic sergeants and police officials has started building unauthorised police boxes on pavements and roadsides to rent out space on those in advertisement market.
As many as 350 such police boxes have been illegally built in the capital in the last three years with a “noble” excuse that on-duty traffic police may use the structures for shelter from heat and rain.
Some of these police boxes, however, are helping the law enforcers perform their duties,  investigation reveals.
To utter dismay of the Dhaka Electricity Supply Authority (Desa) and Dhaka Electric Supply Company (Desco), which are suffering from perennial shortage of power, most of these police boxes are illegally connected to overhead power cables with hooks — a method used by many slum dwellers for stealing electricity in urban areas.
There are some police boxes that are never used by the traffic or police personnel but local hoodlums under a distinct sign board that reads “Police Box”.
The ad firms are also providing beach umbrellas with distinct advertisements for traffic personnel on the street using silent consent of the traffic department.
The Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) conservancy officials, responsible for the maintenance of pavements, central reservations and hoardings, say these police boxes are adding to many other serious problems of the capital. The mad rush for building these structures is not because traffic police need them but for making money through advertisement.
A section of profiteering companies are capitalising on the police corruption and building these structures on intersections making hefty amounts at the cost of the city’s aesthetics. At many intersections, they obstruct clear view of the on-coming traffic from side roads. Some obstruct pedestrians when they are walking on pavements and crossing the street using a zebra crossing.
One such police box has recently been built on the footpath along Satmasjid Road on the southern corner of Abahani playground. The box, about the size of 100 square feet, is totally covered with colourful advertisement of a real estate developer. When The Daily Star correspondent rang up the developer, the reply was that an ad firm located on Panthapath has rented it to them for a yearly charge of Tk 2 lakh.
Contacted, an official of the ad firm, who refused to identify himself, said the traffic sergeant deployed in that area verbally gave consent to building the structure. “What is your problem with that?” he asked before hanging up on The Daily Star correspondent.
More than two sources directly involved in ad business say there is a rush in the industry to set up police boxes. In most cases the entire process starts with the on-duty sergeant and his colleagues. The ad agency has to obtain the sergeant’s silent consent — usually a process that costs between Tk 50,000 and Tk 1 lakh subjected to location.
The excuse of building such structures is apparently noble–to provide relief to the on duty police–but in the meantime the government is losing crores of taka in tax, adds the source. It is clearly not for facilitating policemen to perform better that those boxes are being built, the source said.
Bipan Kumar Saha, chief conservancy officer of DCC, expressed his dismay and said he has formally notified several departments and the home ministry about the matter. He said the money changing hands through advertisements deprives the government of huge revenues.
“If the on-duty police need shelters, they should tell us rather than encouraging and indulge in undesirable activity without any authorisation,” said Saha.
ASM Ismail, chief architect of the Department of Architecture, said, “Although these police boxes ensure presence of policemen on the streets, we should not allow such structures on the thoroughfares, which may obstruct sight for road users. Urban landscape should be designed with respect to aesthetics of the city.
“There may be a need for police boxes but those should be located away from the footpaths or central reservations. I have not seen or heard of anything like this in any big cities,” Ismail added.
Mahbubur Rahman, joint commissioner (Traffic) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told The Daily Star that his office would take steps to demolish the unauthorised police boxes.
“I am going to send a warning on the police radio to all the field level officers about the matter and will hold the responsible officer-in-charge of the area where a similar police box is in the offing,” Rahman added.
“Nobody except the DCC can authorise a structure on the road,” Mahbubur observed.
With thousands of haphazard billboards everywhere, Dhaka city has already turned into an eyesore.


Courtesy of The Daily Star

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