Workers’ leaders reveal details of outrageous graft in transport sector; JS body terms disclosure tip of corruption iceberg
* Bus: Over 5 lakh, * Workers’ Federation: 15, * Workers’ Organisations: 510, * Bus Owners’ Association: 412 , * Workers’ Union: 7,490
Transport workers’ leaders yesterday described to a parliamentary sub-committee how they run an extortion regime in league with a section of policemen and politicians, and a minister.
Attending a meeting of the sub-committee at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, they also observed that extortion in the transport sector cannot be stopped unless the crooked police officials and political leaders are held back.
The parliamentary standing committee on the labour and employment ministry formed the three-member sub-committee on October 24 last year to find ways to check corruption in the transport sector.
Though all 15 workers’ federations were invited, representatives of only four–Biplobi Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, Tank Lorry Sramik Federation, Sanjukta Truck Bondobostokari Sramik Federation and Taxicab-Microbus Chalok-Sramik Federation–attended yesterday’s meeting.
The transport leaders said Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, which is headed by Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, takes the largest slice of the extortion pie. It collects at least Tk 51 crore a year in the name of raising funds for workers’ welfare, Israfil Alam, chief of the sub-committee, told reporters after the meeting.
“This account is only the tip of the iceberg. We could not yet get the whole picture, as extortion in the transport sector is carried out in numerous ways,” Israfil said.
“All the organisations related to workers and owners are involved in extortion, contributing to a rise in transport fares by 40 to 200 percent,” he added.
The spike in fare in turn pushes the prices of essentials, in particular vegetables, noted Israfil, a ruling Awami League lawmaker.
According to the sub-committee, more than 23 lakh workers are employed in the transport industry that has over 5 lakh buses and minibuses. There are 7,490 workers’ unions, 510 workers’ organisations and 412 bus owners’ associations.
“We admit we are involved in extortion. But you cannot stop this until you first control those with whose blessings we do it,” said Mohammad Shahjahan, president of Tank Lorry Sramik Federation.
Ali Reza, acting general secretary of Biplobi Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, echoed the sentiment.
The other areas in this sector where extortion is endemic include welfare fund for the physically challenged workers, bus terminal operation, maintenance of truck and bus stations, and operation and maintenance of mosques, the committee chief added.
“It’s interesting that there is no discord between our politicians–be they in power or in opposition–when it comes to extortion,” Israfil continued.
“The federation led by the minister enjoys advantage in extortion, to the chagrin of the other organisations.”
The fear of being extorted by police is so intense among the drivers that it sometimes causes accidents as the drivers try to avoid the cops, he added.
Sharing his experience with journalists, the lawmaker said the 60-km journey between Natore and Shibganj of Chapainawabganj requires a bus to pay Tk 760 in extortion.
“After the meeting, my impression is that extortion cannot be stopped; it can only be checked to some extent if we try our best,” said a frustrated Israfil.
The committee would meet other stakeholders before coming up with a set of recommendations.
-With The Daily Star input