Saad Hammadi investigates the sharp rise in criminal activity ahead of the upcoming Eid and the steps taken by the law enforcers to curb it
In the recent weeks, incidents of mugging, especially by the ‘aggyan party’, extortion at bus terminals, snatching and shop lifting in the markets have increased, as criminals, big and small, flex their muscles right before Eid when people are gearing up for the big festival. In addition, other specialised crimes, like ticket overpricing through black markets and re-rent of government allotted shops, have increased people’s woes.
Silent extortions and overseas calls from most wanted criminals are again on the rise as businessmen from Old Dhaka, Motijheel and Mohakhali tell New Age this week. Transport and market owners have sought support from the law enforcers this week to protect them from unnecessary harassment by criminals and extortionists causing hindrance to their businesses.
Although law enforcers claim to have taken stringent measures to monitor and control crimes, all kinds of criminal activity continue to increase.
‘Aggyan party’, a term used to describe a group of criminals who exhort hapless victims using sedatives to make them unconscious, have taken most newspapers’ headlines in the last six months since the killing of an intelligence official in May, till the recent murder of a North South University lecturer Dewan Rahat Karim on September 25.
Information acquired from the Dhaka Medical College Hospital reveals that more than 200 people were victims of these gangs in the last week alone. At least 31 mugging and snatching and 16 thefts were reported with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police in September.
The underlings of most underworld criminals, political leaders and politicised transport associations have resumed their extortion rackets in the transport sector recently, reveals investigations, adding, that Tk four to five lakh is regularly extorted from the counters at the Mohakhali bus terminal every month.
‘Extortion in Tejgaon and Mohakhali bus terminal is happening rampantly and we still cannot free ourselves of these extortion rackets that almost jeopardise our transport business,’ says Shah Mohammad Ashraf Hossain, convener of the Mohakhali Bus Terminal Owners’ Association.
‘We have intensified our vigilance and force deployment in the bus terminal to curb the activity of the criminals,’ said M Akbar Ali, also the commanding officer of the second Rapid Action Battalion, at a law and order and passenger safety meeting arranged between police, traffic department, RAB, Dhaka City Corporation and the transport owners on October 2.
In spite of the measures taken, criminals are often visiting the terminals and threatening to return. ‘They usually visit us in the early hours of morning and during prayer times,’ says one bus owner. SR Paribahan, Ovi, Shoukhin, Akota and Nirapad are some of the transport companies that are recent victims of extortion, he says.
The criminals are associates of former members of bus owners’ association and labour unions who were arrested earlier under the speedy trial tribunal on charges of criminal activity.
While on one hand bus owners are hostages to the extortionists, on other hand, passengers are hostages to the bus owners’ cartels. There are allegations against most bus owners of having sold their tickets in advance that are now available in the black market, he points out.
Every time before Eid, tickets are overpriced by 10 to 20 per cent. Passengers of Southern districts have to pay an excess of Tk 70 to 100 as the ticket prices have been set at Tk 370 to Tk 400 regardless of their stoppages.
‘We began to monitor such irregularities as well,’ says a senior official of the RAB.
While the transport sector irregularities take the toll on commuters, the lives of ordinary dwellers are no less painful with kitchen market manipulation becoming rampant, a contributor to price spirals.
Most kitchen market spaces are rented out to traders by the Dhaka City Corporation. These spaces are now being re-rented for 10 to 20 times its original value, an investigation by the third battalion of RAB reveals. Most of city corporations’ kitchen markets like the ones in Hatirpool, Shantinagar, Malibagh have become victims of this trend. ‘Such irregularities are adding to the price spirals,’ explains Wing Commander Sultan Muhammad Noorani, commanding officer of RAB-3.
Aside from the extortions and market manipulation, petty crimes have also taken a sharp rise in the aftermath of hawker evictions. Hawker evictions have significantly deteriorated the law and order as many people became unemployed by the drive, admit law enforcement officials.
Mahmud Hossain, a journalist of a Bangla daily was mugged while commuting in an autorickshaw by a group of hijackers who swooped in to his vehicle when it halted at the Agargaon road on his way to home at 9:00pm on September 27. On another incident, Mostafizur Rahman, a marketing executive with a real estate firm was a victim of the ‘aggyan party’ when he returned from his hometown Faridpur to Dhaka’s Gabtali bus terminal. Mostafizur lost cash Tk 3,000 and the mobile phone he carried. ‘I later realised that the biscuit seller was involved with the gang, as I fell asleep after having the biscuits I bought on the way.’
He was fortunate enough to have survived as the drugging gangs have killed a number of victims by using sedative drugs in excess, till date.
‘We have decided to crack down on these gangs by identifying the points of criminal activity during Ramadan and the upcoming Eid,’ says joint commissioner Abdul Jalil, who heads the Detective Branch. Most members of these gangs wait at the bus and launch terminals, railway stations, airports and busy areas of the city as it becomes easy to target their victims, loot and then flee, explains Major Saiful Islam Chowdhury of RAB-1.
Although individuals and transport owners are troubled by the rise in crimes, market authorities however, refuse to divulge the details of most of the crimes taking place, to avoid any adverse effect on their business. ‘The markets are picking the pace of sale as the Eid approaches and as long as the market performance is good we have no objection,’ says a member of the Gausia market owners’ association.
‘We are aware that these market authorities are victims of silent extortions but unless they report, we are unable to help,’ says a member of the law enforcement.
‘We have spoken to various market authorities, discussed with them their problems and threats. We have deployed twice the forces than what was used before, in the markets. If any of them are being extorted, we request them to report it,’ said Akbar in a law and order meeting with the Gausia Market Owners’ Association on September 30.
‘The last ten days of Ramadan are crucial for us as we are expecting a huge surge of shop-goers. Except for petty crimes such as pick pockets and shop lifters, there are usually not many big incidents during this time,’ says Kamrul Hasan Babu, the president of Gausia Market Owners’ Association.
Dhaka’s Gausia market is one of the busiest shopping places, but lack of security measures often accounts for theft, shoplifting and pick-pocketing at the market. Nowadays, crimes are also committed by woman in these markets, which leaves little option for anyone to search her even if she is a suspect, say shop owners.
‘We have requested the market authorities to install close circuit cameras and archway, along with providing metal detectors to their security guards to check customers and visitors at the entrance,’ says Akbar.
‘We have deployed our intelligence in areas we suspect to be vulnerable to mugging around the market and its alleys,’ says a highly placed source with the RAB. Check posts have been established on the highways. As many as 125 patrol teams comprising 1,900 members of RAB have been designated on tasks relevant to maintaining law and order during the Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr and the upcoming Durga Puja.
‘We pay the tax and vat to every government and therefore we expect full support from them to help us do our business peacefully,’ says Shamimur Rahman Shamim, secretary general of the Chishtia Market Owners’ Association.
This article was first published in New Age Xtra on October 05, 2007