A gang, led by one Shamim Hawlader, is collecting extortion money from truckers carrying watermelon at Sonakhali village of Barguna's Amtali upazila. They are collecting Tk 300 per truck in the name of Sluice Gate water management association of Chaula area of Water Development Board.
There are also allegations that the truck is being barred if their demand is not met.
According to locals, this year there has bumper watermelon yield in Atharogachhia, Kukua, Haldia and Chawra unions of Barguna's Amtali upazila. Watermelon traders from different areas of the country including Dhaka come to buy watermelons from here and shift them to different places by trucks.
Shamim Hawlader is tactfully using a printed receipt from the local sluice gate water management association to collect the extortion.
Watermelon traders also complained that if a trucker refuses to pay the toll, they do not allow him to transport watermelons.
A local resident, Jalal Chowkida,r said Shamim has been collecting Tk 300 from each truck driver since the beginning of watermelon season. He is forcing them to collect the toll.
Rabiul, a truck driver from Natore who came to carry watermelons, said the truck is barred from carrying watermelons if Shamim's demand is not met.
"We are being forced to pay the money. Every time I load watermelon in my truck, Shamim and his men come up with their demand," he said.
Several other truckers--Mofiz, from Sirajganj, Mosharraf from Mymensingh and Osman from Gazipur--made similar allegations and demanded immediate action against Shamim.
Watermelon traders Ahidul and Mosharraf Hossain said Shamim comes and demands extortion while loading watermelon in the truck. He doesn't allow watermelon to be loaded in the trucks unless the toll is paid.
When asked, Shamim Hawladar denied the allegation of extortion of Tk 300 per truck and said that a small amount of money is being collected for repairing the roads damaged due to the movement of trucks.
Barguna WDB executive engineer Kaiser Alam said Shamim is not from of their office. No one was allowed to collect tolls using the name of Water Development Board.
It is also not true that the roads of the Water Development Board have to be repaired by collecting tolls. Legal action will be taken against such extortionists.
Amtali Police Station Officer-In-Charge Shah Alam Hawladar said, "I am not aware of the matter. If such allegations of extortion are found, legal action will be taken against Shamim."
Amtali Upazila Agriculture Officer Rezaul Karim said it is necessary to take immediate legal action to stop such irrational tolls on watermelon transport. Otherwise, watermelon growers and traders will suffer.
Upazila Nirbahi Officer Asaduzzaman said police would be directed to take legal action against the extortionists after investigating the matter.