Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Do you know that illegal transport toll is the prime source of income to major political parties in BD?

Did you ever ask yourself how the political parties of Bangladesh run their daily activities that cost huge amount of funds? Everybody faces the situation in their day to day lives, but probably miss the deep impacts. The true story may shock anybody. I'll shade light to this issue today.

Perhaps you have noticed that all political parties gather lakhs of people for processions & public meetings. Did you ask how they collect such huge infrastructure costs to arrange those public meetings including preparing pandels, making 'toron', large banners & other exposing materials? Usually parties pay around 200-300 BDT to every personnel attending the public meetings & processions, if they bring 1 lakh people. Thus, 1 public meeting costs minimum 2-3 crores BDT. Infrastructure costs, transport costs will add another crore. On an average, a single public meeting costs about 5 crore BDT. How do the parties spend these huge funds while their balance sheets [as per electoral commissions] state that they have assets worth only few lakhs?

If you travel through roads throughout Bangladesh [any part], then you will find countless funny posters, wall-quotes, gates made by political parties praising their infamous leaders. Political parties paint every building, every wall & every toilet to narrate their leader's fame, how big they are & what outstanding jobs they did so far! But the question is how do they do it? To make a gate costs over 25,000 BDT, average gates cost 50,000 BDT while tremendous 'toron' pours over 2-3 lakhs BDT. To publish posters, they need handsome funds and those posters are more than sufficient in numbers!

The question is how do they bare such huge expenses? Do they cultivate money trees so they can get money whenever needed just shaking a tree-branch?? No, its not. The fact is they earn these huge funds from illegal transport tolls and forced donations.

What is transport toll?
All vehicles pay a fee to the government for transportation; usually bus, trucks pay for using bridges and lunch, cargo ships pay to use river channels. This is legal & I don't have any question about it. Yet there is another toll and that's illegal.

What is illegal but authorized toll? These tolls are collected from every single vehicle, often from personnel’s, and collected funds are transferred to the political parties. Leading political parties enjoy most of the toll funds whereas tiny parties get negligible funds after long cries.

Case study-1: If you travel by bus from Jessore to Dhaka, then you will find 2 spots where long bamboo bars obstacle vehicles to pass through, once in Magura and other's in Manikgonj. There's no bridge, but still buses had to pay tolls.
I asked bus conductor why the toll is collected. He smiled & revealed that these tolls are not legal as government doesn't get a penny. Political parties collect the tolls, if any bus or truck tries to surpass it, parties employ musclemen to beat the driver, crews & the owner of that vehicle. Even they cancel route permit for that guilty vehicle. I was puzzled as it was my maiden journey. But my consciousness received another lash from the speaker when he claimed that the parties collect tolls from every districts & major areas. I asked him how as I didn't see the bus stopping everywhere. He laughed & replied that the parties collect their funds from cumulative toll collections. There may be non-stop fights between parties & regions, but they are very friendly in this case.

Case study-2: One of my friends shifted his computer from hall to his residence at Uttara. He went to hire a 'human-van' to carry his instruments. The van driver puzzled him asking what sort of rent he wants to pay. Chakma asked 'what do you mean by rent types'? The driver explained if he rents at fixed price then he'll cover all expenses including tolls at only 350 BDT, and he could do it for only at 250 BDT if Chakma wants to pay the tolls. Chakma was very new to this awkward situation, hence asked for further illustration. The driver told that political parties grab tolls from every road, these tolls surpass usual price. He agreed at fixed price rate.
Later he said that he initially didn't trust the driver as his journey is scheduled at very early in the morning. But he didn't know the real shape of BD politics. Soon he learned it from his journey. He started journey at 5am, when even crows sleep. They were stopped at the first alley after about 1km, a toll collector demanded money that the van driver paid off. Chakma was astonished, said they he never thought of it. In his words 'it was misty morning, anything after 10 feet was invisible, in this connection a goon appeared from the mist & demanded money'. The situation repeated 5-7 times since he reached home.

Case study-3: Dhaka vehicle owners & workers called for strike 3-4 years ago due to over-charge of tolls. To resolve the issue, DMP commissioner had to interfere; he sat with all parties and fixed daily tolls per vehicle to 70-80 BDT per day. He said that to lead a party needs huge price, so tolls are collected, everybody should know that.
Let's do a simple math. If 10 lakhs vehicles including buses, trucks, cars, cargos & other sorts of vehicles run in Dhaka city per day, then 7-8 crore BDT is collected for parties only! And how much for a year? About 2,500+ crores BDT per year is passed to political parties!!!

Case study-4: Obaidul Kader is an honest man, struggled throughout his political career but never sold himself. After Abul's case, he was appointed 'Transportation minister' and he carried out his duty with sole devotion. He tried to remove illegal activities & corruption from transport sector.
But soon he learned the truth & abandoned good transitions because he came to realize that its impossible. With a broken heart Obaidul Kader declared 'this sector is so corrupted that it can't be healed'. He knows that he can punish corrupted people but not ministers who grab money from tolls & party leaders as well as party members who solely depend on tolls for their economic demands.

How much revenue is collected through party tolls? The exact figure is impossible as government as well as parties won't let it publish.
Assume that 30 lakhs vehicles move throughout Bangladesh per day. If they pay 100 BDT for toll on an average, then gross daily toll is 30 crores BDT.
Monthly toll = 900 crores BDT.
And yearly toll is about 11,000 crores BDT.

Surcharges on overloads multiply funds: A truck can carry up to 5 ton loads. But what if a truck carries overloads? If you are born in Bangladesh, then you should be habituated to this view. Hardly can you find a truck carrying only 5 tons. By default, all trucks carry 5-7 times loads than specified weight. Most trucks carry 25-35 tons of product loads in their day to day carriage.
What's the toll policy for overloads? Nothing for government tolls, authority doesn't receive a single penny from it. But parties grab multiple times tolls than regular fee. They add surcharges to overloads and collect between 300-500 BDT per overloaded truck.
Such surcharges yield parties additional 10+ crores BDT per day.
Annual surcharges collected over 3,000 crores BDT. And the total funds are passed to the parties.

Impacts of overloads: Our roads are poorly constructed due to contractor's profit robbing tendency. Parties make large amount profits from contractor's shares too. That's why; the roads are poorly constructed and prone to decay after 5-6 months of making.
This decaying process accelerates with the blessing of overloaded trucks and vehicles. Overloads abandon the roads with multiple times extra pressure. As a result, the roads begin to fade quicker than usual. Frequent accidents are the gifts of such overloads.

Lunch tolls: Bangladesh made an unbreakable record in lunch accidents and non-stop death trolls in rivers between 2001 to 2006 during BNP's 3rd term reign. Akbar ali, the minister of water transportation, was the key person to these deaths. He's such a stupid & arrogant [don't know who dared to produce such bastard] that killed over thousands of people. Almost every week we watched a water vehicle, either lunch or steamer drowned and number of people died.
Lunches carry 2-3 times people & products than its capacity. Due to overloads, most lunches crash in the rivers. Parties play vital roles along with lunch owners. Lunch owners multiply their profits carrying overloads and so the political parties. They surcharge lunches for overloads.
Thus, the parties collect huge amount of illegal tolls every year from water vehicles.

Does illegal tolls surpass yearly budget of Bangladesh? If you closely collect data about illegal tolls, then you may wonder at the outcome. The political parties collect over 50,000 crores BDT just from illegal tolls from transportation sector.
And they raise couple of times more funds from other sorts of tolls & forced donations from businessmen every year. Thus, collective illegal earnings may surpass the total budget of Bangladesh [last year's budget was 1917.38 billion BDT].

Can you imagine this??? But its true.
We can construct 10 Padma bridges every year if these illegal tolls are passed to the government in proper ways.