Highway Theft of Export Cargo: Drives on to arrest gangs

Asaduzzaman Mollah is a member of a highway robbery gang, and as part of their plan, he engineered to get a job as a driver at Noman Group, the country's largest textile exporter.

And in the middle of July, Mollah succeeded in his plan: he made way with a cloth-laden lorry while in transit to the Chittagong Port for shipment abroad.

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But this is not an isolated incident. Incidences of such theft have surged in recent months, leaving garment exporters, who are already battling adverse circumstances for the global coronavirus pandemic, on edge.

"Sometimes, it is not possible to know about the robbery unless exporters receive complaints from buyers that some products were missing as the gang members tend to seal the cartoons again," said Tofazzal Hossain Majumder, president of the Bangladesh Truck Covered Van Owners Association.

In the last couple of months, there have been more than 50 such incidences of theft on the Dhaka-Chattogram highway.

Often, the thefts take place in collusion with the drivers, who stop their vehicles and unload products in roadside warehouses.

In such cases, installing Global Positioning System tracking devices on the lorries to monitor their routes can help, Majumder said.

But sometimes robbers intercept the goods-laden trucks and lorries and take away the cargoes goods at gunpoint. The highway police will have to play a more assured role in checking such cases, he said.

Since such incidents are considered mere theft, the transport workers, even if they are caught, commit similar offences after coming out on bail in less than six months, he said, while calling for amending the law to ensure harsher punishment.

Against this backdrop, on July 12, leaders of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the sector's apex trade body, met with Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and requested beefing up security measures and police surveillance to prevent robbery of the export consignments.

Mostafa Kamal Uddin, senior secretary to the public security division of the ministry; Benazir Ahmed, inspector general of Police; Shafiqul Islam, additional inspector general of Industrial Police; Mallick Faqrul Islam, additional inspector general of Highway Police; AKM Hafiz Akhtar, additional commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police's Detective Branch; and other high officials of law enforcement agencies attended the meeting.

When buyers discover rags and other materials filled by thieves in cargoes instead of finished garments, it taints the image of Bangladesh, said BGMEA President Faruque Hassan.

In response, Khan directed the law enforcement agencies to be stricter and assured that the Dhaka-Chattogram highway would be brought under closed-circuit television surveillance.

Following the meeting, the government formed a team, headed by Islam to find ways to stop the theft of export goods on the highway.

The committee also held its first meeting, according to Md Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the BGMEA.

"The law against theft is weak and that is why perpetrators get away even after being arrested," he added.

Whether Mollah, who was nabbed by detectives two weeks after the incident along with two accomplices from Gazipur and Dhaka's Uttara, gets away easily remains to be seen.

The police recovered 90 clothing rolls, said Harun or Rashid, joint commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police's Detective Branch, at a press briefing at the DMP media centre yesterday.

"We got information from some others of this robbery gang," he said, adding that drives will continue to arrest such groups.

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