[ Last Page ] 2018-02-15
Strong extortion nexus active at Burimari port
PMO despatches intelligence report to relevant agencies
Syful Islam :

A nexus of land port and customs officials, police, and local political goons is allegedly involved in rampant extortion at Burimari land port, sources said.
The organised extortion at every step of export-import activities is resulting in increased payment by the end users of the products, they said.

The prime minister's office (PMO) this week forwarded an intelligence report, which identified the nexus, to the ministries and departments concerned for taking action against the people involved in the criminal act.

According to the report, the importance of country's third largest land port (Burimari) has been growing, in terms of trade and connectivity among Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indian and Nepal. Mainly stone, fruits and spices are being imported through this land port while some quantities of Bangladeshi products are also exported.

Besides, hundreds of people pass through the port to visit India, Nepal, and Bhutan for trade, tourism and medical services. In fiscal year 2016-17, revenue earnings from the land port stood at Tk 170 million.

The intelligence report, however, mentioned that the local politically influential people, officials of customs, port and law enforcing agencies, labour union leaders, highway police and their associates extort substantial amount of money from the port users.

The land port, customs and quarantine officials allegedly charge in excess of the fees fixed by the government on each goods-laden truck inside the port area.
It is alleged that a powerful syndicate does also realise money from both local and Indian trucks wanting to enter the port area.

Besides, no truck can enter the land port area without paying toll to highway police at a place named "Tin Mile". The Patgram police also take toll from the trucks through their linemen. Some 400 stone-laden trucks and nearly 70 fruits-laden trucks use the land port each day, according to the report.

It mentioned that from each of the fruits-carrying trucks, the customs officials charge Tk 2,000 as toll while the quarantine office charges additional Tk 200, port authority Tk 500, local police station Tk 400, highway police Tk 200, labour union office Tk 1,000, customs security men Tk 100, special branch of police Tk 200, and representatives of several political groups Tk 500 to Tk 600 in 2-3 more heads.

The report also mentioned that from each of the stone-laden trucks, the customs office charges additional Tk 1,300, port officials Tk 200, highway police Tk 200, local police station Tk 500, labour union between Tk 400 and Tk 600, and some political goons charge between Tk 100 and Tk 600 in 2-3 more heads.
It also said that two syndicates led by two local political bigwigs control the extortion in the port area alongside the government officials. The report mentioned that some government officials are stationed at Burimari land port area for several years and, in collusion with the political thugs, continuing the extortion.

The intelligence report said the rampant extortion is casting negative impact on export-import activities at the land port. If strict measures can be taken to stop extortion in the port, the export-import activities could be expedited.

Contacted over telephone Tuesday, chairman of Bangladesh Land Port Authority (BLPA) Tapan Kumar Chakravorty acknowledged receiving such a report from the PMO. He said many groups were working in the port area and local political representatives also active there.

"We have already launched an investigation to check whether the information mentioned in the report against port officials is true or not. Drastic actions will be taken if any port officials found involved in the extortion," he said.

When contacted over telephone Tuesday, assistant commissioner of customs at Burimari land port Mostafizur Rahman, however, dismissed the allegations raised against the customs officials in the report.
"I have no involvement on such extortion. Everything will be clear if in-depth investigation is carried out," he said.

Mr Rahman said there is a row among different political wings in the port area. "Sometimes we become victims of their internal disputes."
Lalmonirhat Chamber of Commerce and Industry president AKM Qamrul Hassan Bakul told the FE over telephone that nearly 500 trucks enter the land port every day, most of which carry stone. "Extortion is a common practice here," he said.

In the port, many parties are involved in the extortion, he quoted a chamber director as saying. "We have to pay the government-fixed charges, but we also have to pay an extra."
"Due to the rampant extortion, the cost of doing business increases significantly," Mr Bakul noted.
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