A syndicate of politicians and powerful owners control the ferry business along the Mawa-Kawrakandi river route. They have monopolised the business and rake in big profits for themselves.
According to sources of the Launch Owners Association, Workers Union and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), it is the ruling party leaders of the two districts on either bank of the river Padma, Munshiganj and Madaripur, that controls the syndicate. No one outside of this ruling party clique can launch a new vessel on this route.
According to BIWTA sources, there is permission for 87 launches to ply the Mawa-Kawrakandi route. Most of the launches are 30 to 40 years old. BIWTA and the Sea Transport Directorate of the Shipping Ministry issue approval for the launch design, registration, permission to ply and fitness certificates.
However, outside of these two government bodies, the unwritten permission of ruling party politicians on either side of the river, as well as launch owners, is required too. Basically they are the ones to decide whose launch will ply this route.
According to BIWTA, over the past two of three years, there are five new launches on this route. The owners of all five Awami League leaders or connected to leaders of the party. These five launches are Oishee Khan, Fahim-Tamim, Supersonic-1, Lipu Khan-1 and Shah Poran.
Shah Poran is the latest launch to get permission on this route. Its owner is Yakub Bepari of Kathalbari union, Madaripur. He left BNP to join Awami League in order to get the permission and enter this business. He had bought his launch three years ago but couldn’t begin operations due to the owners’ association. The owners’ association held a strike for eleven days of strike to prevent him starting up his launch service. Only after two years to striving did he finally get the permission last September to carry passenger on his launch. Yakub Bepari is now the Awami League Vice President of Kathalbari union.
After Shah Poran began operations, it was decided last September at a meeting in the Shipping Minister’s Jatiya Sangsad office, that no more launches would be given permission to ply this route. Present at the meeting were Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan; Chairman of the parliamentary standing committee for the Shipping Ministry and lawmaker of Shibchar, Madaripur, Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury (Liton Chowdhury); BIWTA Chairman; and, leaders of the owners’ association.
Of the five launches, MV Oishee Khan belongs to Shipping Minister Shahajahan Khan’s family business Sharbik Shipping Lines.
Fahim-Rahim belongs to Fazlul Huq Munshi, General Secretary of Awami Shecchashebok League, Shibchar. Supersonic’s owner Mohsin Uddin is also involved in Shibchar Awami League politics. Bashir Uddin owns the launch Lipu Khan, the member of a powerful family in Lohajong upazila, Munshiganj. The family had involvement in both Awami League and BNP.
Yakub Bepari, owner of Shah Poran, tells Prothom Alo, despite having registration, permission to ply, fitness and all other documents, the owners association obstructed the launch to begin operations for two years. It was only after he joined Awami League that he could run this business. H claims that he was not in any tics previously.
Shahjahan Khan’s ministry controls river communications. His family owns a launch and a road transport company along the Meghna-Kawrakandi route. The family of Liton Chowdhury MP of Shibpur also wields considerable influence in business along this route.
Speaking to Prothom Alo yesterday, Monday, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said, “I will smash the launch owners’ syndicate. It was under pressure from the owners that new launches weren’t allowed to play this route. Now even if the owners decide to go on strike, I will break this syndicate.”