With the blessing of a top ruling party leader of the upazila and greasing the palms of policemen every month, Sabdul Mondol of Kaliganj in Jhenidah had run the illegal business for the last one decade, said locals and relatives.
Yet, he could not make a fortune. Instead, he had to sell three out of six bighas of his ancestral land to feed his six-member family and walk out of jail after getting arrested, they claimed.
Sabdul, 50, was killed in a “gunfight” with the Rapid Action Battalion in Narendrapur village of the district on May 20. Officer-in-Charge of Kaliganj Police Station Mizanur Rahman said Sabdul was accused in at least five drug cases.
Over 60 people got killed in the “shootouts” so far amid the ongoing anti-narcotics crackdown by law enforcement agencies, but the majority of them were in lower tiers of the illicit business.
“Following the killing of Sabdul, his godfather fled away,” his brother-in-law Mostak Ali told The Daily Star while locals said around 50 other drug traders have left Kaliganj town.
“Sabdul had to pay a hefty amount of money to his godfather and some people in the administration even when the business was not good. So he actually never could quit,” Mostak added.
Family members of those killed in “shootouts” and people of the areas came up with similar accounts about how the drug trade backed by local big shots went uninterrupted over the years.
Mosharaf Hossain Bidyut, 39, was killed in a “shootout” near the Brahmaputra River at Chhankanda of Jamalpur on May 23. Accused in 15 cases and involved in the trade for 11 years, he was all along a small peddler, according to family members.
Wishing anonymity, a number of locals said Bidyut had close ties with law enforcers and used to give a share of the pie to cops.
“Bidyut was not a big drug peddler or someone involved in big-scale drug business. He actually passed his days in financial hardship,” said one of his relatives, seeking anonymity.
Bidyut's wife Shilpi said her husband was close to police. On Monday, three policemen visited their house twice and had chats with them, and he was picked up the next day, she alleged.
In Comilla, six alleged drug traders have been killed in “shootouts” with law enforcers since the drive began, and at least three of them were small peddlers living hand to mouth, locals and family members said.
The three are Peyar Ali, 24, of Shuvopur of Comilla Sadar upazila, Nurul Islam Isa and Kamal Hossain alias “Phensi” Kamal. Isa and Kamal were also CNG-run auto-rickshaw drivers.
However, several drug wholesalers still remain out of the dragnet and are now running home delivery services. They maintained good political connections and had to pay police and politicians every month, alleged locals.
“Drug traders have good connections with a top city Awami League leader, a councillor and a city-unit Jubo League leader,” said a veteran businessman of Comilla, wishing to remain unnamed.
The story is a bit different in Kushtia, where an alleged drug lord named Hamidul was killed in a “gunfight” with Rab on May 15. Eleven years ago his elder brother Rashidul was killed in a similar “gunfight”.
Rashidul and Hamidul, known as the drug sultans of Kushtia town, were named as “most wanted” on the list of law enforcers in the district.
Their racket operated in the last 20 years by maintaining good relationship with local police, local sources said. It had around 100 associates to sell heroin, Phensedyl, ganja and yaba among 4,000 subscribers across the district, sources in police and Rab said.
Earlier in 2003, the racket got locked into a fierce gun battle with a joint force team, leaving three policemen and a border guard killed. Three of its men also died in the fight.
Rashidul and Hamidul used to get backing from some leaders of both the BNP and Awami League, depending on which party was in power, locals said. A section of policemen also used to help them in exchange for money, they added.
Debashish Datta, executive committee member of Kushtia district Jubo League, said there is no doubt that drug peddling has long been going on in the district with the help of police.
“We have learnt that the home ministry has prepared a list which include some police members who abetted the drug trade,” he said and demanded immediate action against those unscrupulous cops.
[Our correspondents from Jhenidah, Jamalpur, Kushtia and Comilla contributed to this report]