Toll collection rampant in three hill districts
Fardaus Mobarok, back from CHT:
[dropcap font=”arial” fontsize=”60″]A[/dropcap]n eligible person needs to pay tax to the government. Being termed as backward people, the tribal of CHT have been provided with special concession. They do not have to pay tax to the government despite enjoying all civic facilities. But, the tragedy is though they are spared from the government tax, the tribal people of CHT have no respite from paying toll to the so-called regional political parties. Both the Bangalees and the tribals are forced to pay toll to the terrorists even from the sale of essential items like banana, chicken and eggs. They are also openly collecting toll from service holders by issuing letters.
But, the tragedy is though they are spared from the government tax, the tribal people of CHT have no respite from paying toll to the so-called regional political parties. Both the Bangalees and the tribals are forced to pay toll to the terrorists even from the sale of essential items like banana, chicken and eggs. They are also openly collecting toll from service holders by issuing letters.
This illegal toll collection by the tribal parties turned commoners’ daily life miserable. There are no effective measures against the toll collection though the issue is very much clear to police and the local administrations. On July 13, 2016 in a law and order meeting Bandarban District Com-missioner Dilip Kumar Banik highlighted the rate of toll collection by the three regional groups of the hill tracts Santu Larma-led Jana Sanghati Samiti (JSS), JSS (Refor-mist) and United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF).
He said, “The operators have to pay Tk 5,000 to two JSS groups and Tk 3,000 to UPDF every year for each bus.” Owners must pay at a rate of Tk 6,000 to each of the three groups for a truck, Tk 3,000, Tk 2,000 and Tk 1,500 for a pickup (locally known as Chander Gari). Even poor villagers who sell different fruits like pineapple, jackfruit, mango etc have to pay toll on sale of the items too. Tk 5 toll has to be paid to each group for selling a jackfruit. Each of the groups is paid Tk 5 on sale of every bunch of bananas.
There is no item which is out of the toll net of the regional tribal parties. Both the Bangalees and tribals of the three hill districts are disturbed due to various misdeeds including abduction, toll collection by the regional parties. Even the local ruling Awami League leaders are helpless to the operatives of the tribal regional parties. The toll collection has not been come under control though security forces and police arrest the collectors now and then.
The toll is collected forcefully and if anyone refuses to pay the toll, they have to face dire consequences including killing and abduction. That is why the locals – both Bangalee and tribal — have been passing their days in fear of toll collection by the terrorists. Most of the victims do not admit to the law enforcing agencies about paying the toll as security forces cannot reach the restive areas hurriedly due to inaccessible areas in CHT.
According to the local security forces, if anyone in the three hill districts refuses to pay toll as per the rate set by JSS, JSS (reformist) and UPDF, they have to be subjected of abduction, torture, repression, killing and rape even houses, vehicles and business establishments are set on fire. According to an intelligence report, the tribal armed groups collect up to Tk 400 crore in a year. A total of 5,000 trained armed operatives of the groups are engaged in toll collection.
The money is spent for organizational activities and salary and other benefits of the groups’ officials and operatives. Seeking anonymity in fear of attacks and oppression, a businessman in Khagrachhari said, “Toll collection by the regional groups is rampant. Every transport must pay toll either in the entry or exit from the Khagrachhari. They change the point of collecting the toll. They torture the staffers if they are not paid toll. Recently, UPDF operatives set fire to a truck owned by BRTC and a covered van of Pran RFL group for not giving them toll.”
Asked why they do not file complaints with the police in such cases, the businessmen said they fear for further attacks by the criminals and they think police will fail to take any effective measures in such cases. The businessmen in other two hill districts have similar observations. Majid Ali, superintendent of police in Khagrachhari, said the hill areas are very restive and the criminals remain armed always. However, drives are being carried out against criminals on a regular basis.
SP Sayeed Tariqul Hasan of Rangamati said many of the victims are afraid of filing any complaints against the criminals. But, he claimed, police carry out drives and pick up the offenders whenever they get complaints against anyone. Apart from manpower shortage in the police force, the officer also identified the landscape, roads, language and lack of knowledge of the area as some major challenges they face in carrying out their duties.
About the toll collection, JSS spokesperson and its assistant publicity secretary Sajib Chakma termed the allegation as motivated. He said: “We don’t collect toll. We work for the welfare of the hill people.” About the letter seeking toll, he said, “We didn’t issue the letter. Someone may collect toll in the name of JSS.” Niron Chakma, spokesman and head of publication and publicity department of UPDF, denied the allegations toll collection by their group, saying their party is run with the help of people.
Firoza Begum Chinu, lawmaker (reserved seat for women) of three CHT districts, said toll collection is an open secret in the area. But nobody dare to file cases against the offenders. “Armed groups have been trying to unstable the atmosphere of the hills. Tribal criminals collect toll from every sphere of the society. The locals have been tired of the toll collection, killing and abduction by the criminals.” She seeks home ministry’s interference in this regard.
Awami League central committee member and former CHT affairs state minister Dipankar Talukdar said: “At first all people have to be aware of to stop toll collection. They have to help the administration and form social movement against the toll collectors.” About the importance setting up camps of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in CHT, he said, “Toll collection and use of firearms by the tribal groups are the main problems of the area. The local administration has to be more active to stop toll collection, recover the firearms and arrest the criminals.”
Source- The Asian Age