The number of public transport vehicles on Dhaka streets has fallen drastically though there is no announcement of a strike from transport owners ahead of the BNP’s divisional rally in Dhaka on Dec 10.
Fewer long-haul buses left Dhaka as well on Friday as the number of passengers dropped amid fears of violence centring the rally.
Bus service from Dhaka’s Gabtoli terminal to northern Bangladesh was notably light until noon. The number of Dhaka-bound buses was also reduced due to the lack of passengers.
“On other days, five vehicles would be setting off around this time,” Md Lalon, who works at a ticket counter for Hanif Parihaban, said around 1 pm. “Twenty vehicles were supposed to come to Gabtoli, but only two have come so far.”
“Our buses run on 10 routes to the 20 districts in northern Bangladesh,” said Nazmul Hasan Montu, a ticket salesman for Shyamoli NR Travels. “As of 12 pm, some 20 vehicles were to set off. But, due to a lack of passengers, only five have left.”
Police patrol vehicles could be seen at the Gabtoli Bus Terminal.
“We are carrying out our duties as part of our regular patrol,” said ASI Humayun Kabir, the officer on duty. “Security has been heightened as part of precautionary measures.”
Searches were being carried out at the permanent checkpoint in front of the Darus Salam Police Station near the Parbat Cinema Hall in Gabtoli.
“This is a permanent checkpoint,” said ASI Bayezid, the officer on duty. “We man it regularly and conduct searches when necessary. We are on higher alert due to the unusual circumstances.”
Mohammadpur, Dhanmondi, Science Lab, Shahbagh, the Dhaka University area, Gulistan, Arambagh, Mirpur, Mohakhali and Farmgate have been nearly deserted since Friday morning with buses parked idly along the roads. Buses that are running have few passengers.
Police have set up a checkpoint at Amin Bazar in Savar. They are conducting searches for suspicious activity in the area.
The BNP has been planning a divisional rally in Dhaka on Dec 10 for some time. However, they were at an impasse with authorities over the venue for the rally. Police approved the use of Suhrawardy Udyan for the event, but the BNP refused to use it. Amid rising tensions and clashes on Wednesday, BNP leaders sat with police for talks on Thursday night to discuss alternative locations.
The police have finally granted the party permission to use the Golapbagh field for the event. The BNP agreed and their activists were seen making preparations for the upcoming event.
Bus traffic on various routes in the capital has dwindled after the venue was selected, leaving many commuters suffering from long waits.
“I went to Manikganj for work,” said a worker in the private sector at Mirpur’s Kazipara area. “I had difficulty finding transport. I wanted to go to Mohakhali and I had to wait for 20 minutes. I can’t seem to find any vehicles on that route.”
“Many buses are not running because their owners are afraid of vandalism,” said Salauddin, a bus assistant on an Ayat bus on the Mirpur-Kamalapur route. “That is why there are so few vehicles on the road. But we haven’t seen any unrest yet. If we do, we’ll shut down the bus service.”
ENHANCED POLICE PRESENCE ON GAZIPUR ROUTES
There were few long-haul buses on the Dhaka-Tangail and Dhaka-Mymensingh highways in Gazipur on Friday and few passengers travelling on them.
Transport drivers and passengers say they believe this is due to worries about unrest surrounding the BNP rally in Dhaka.
Law enforcers usually struggle to cope with heavy traffic on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway even on the weekend, according to Traffic Sergeant Md Mashiur Rahman of Gazipur Metropolitan Police. But on Friday, traffic police were largely idle due to the drop in the number of long-haul buses.
Local buses are still running, but they have few passengers.
Police have been deployed to various important locations, but not many searches were observed. However, police patrol vehicles and armoured vehicles could be seen on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway.
Driver Noor Mohammad, who drives a bus for Dream Land Paribahan, spoke with bdnews24.com in the Chandana intersection area.
“We are worried that our vehicles will be attacked,” he said. “But police have not searched our vehicles yet.”
“I am headed to Dhaka for family reasons,” said Md Akkas Ali, a passenger on a Dream Land bus. “The number of long-haul vehicles and passengers on the road is less than normal. My bus set off from Mymensingh to Dhaka with less than half the seats filled. We didn’t face too many issues on the way.”
“Police patrols have been stepped up on the highway,” said Molla Nazrul Islam, commissioner of Gazipur Metropolitan Police. “Additional armoured police vehicles are on patrol. If we believe there is a need for it, police at checkpoints will conduct searches. If we receive any information, we will conduct searches.”
There wasn’t too much long-haul traffic on the road on Friday.
The registration and fitness papers of small and large vehicles on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway are being checked, says Sub Inspector Md Sadiq of Sreepur Police Station, who is on duty at the Maona intersection.
Police have set up two checkpoints on the Dhaka-Tangail Highway in the Kaliakoir Chandra area. The three-way intersection is the main road from the north of Bangladesh to Dhaka. Police on duty at the checkpoints were searching passengers and vehicles.
They stopped, questioned and searched any motorcycles, pickup vans, long-haul buses, and trucks they found suspicious.
Drivers on these routes to northern Bangladesh say there are fewer vehicles and passengers on the road today. Jony, an SA Paribahan driver, headed from Sirajganj to Dhaka, said that people were scared of unrest and had not left their houses.
Abu Taher, a driver for an Alam Paribahan bus from Dhaka to the north, said much of the same thing.
“We have been conducting a special operation since Dec 1,” said Shafiqul Alam, superintendent of Gazipur Police. “We are carrying out vehicle searches in line with that operation.”
OPERATIONS IN MUNSHIGANJ, KAMALAPUR
Law enforcers reinforced security in Munshiganj with checkpoints at 84 locations on roads, highways and waterways while carrying out searches for maximum safety ahead of the BNP rally on Saturday.
Many people refrained from taking out their vehicles fearing sabotage, causing much difficulty for commuters as traffic and crowds on roads and highways dwindled as the day progressed.
Superintendent of district police Mahfuzur Rahman Al Mamun said the safety measures were put in place over Victory Day and New Year’s Eve for the “safety of people”.
“We’ve set up checkpoints at 84 locations of the district on Dhaka-Chattogram, Dhaka-Mawa highways and waterways,” he said.
The locations under strict watch include Jamadia, Bhaterchar, Anarpura, Bhaberchar, Danribaushia, Madhyam Baushia, Pakhir Morh among other places. Police’s mobile, operation teams, strike force and multiple units of naval police were on constant watch districtwide, police said.
Police were also patrolling different locations along the Padma Bridge toll plaza to Dhaka-bound Kuchiamora Bridge stretch. Searches were being conducted on vehicles at Chhanbari and Mawa intersections.
Police surveillance at Kamalapur Railway Station was also heightened with fewer than usual number of passengers around on Friday.
But the trains were all on schedule, said Masud Sarwar, the station’s manager. “Every train arrived and departed on time, though the number of passengers was greatly reduced.”
NAYA PALTAN UNDER WATCH
Meanwhile, Naya Paltan fell almost silent with no horns blaring and only a handful traversing the streets amid heightened security since the deadly clashes ahead of BNP’s Dec 10 rally.
Police barred all BNP leaders and supporters from entering the party headquarters with barricades placed at either end of the key road and in front of alleys in this usually busy area.
Police questioned and searched anybody loitering in the area. Many complained that their phones were searched. Suspicious individuals were taken to the Paltan Police Station.
Additional Deputy Police Commissioner Abul Hasan said four people were detained at the Nightingale intersection. He said it was necessary to avoid “undesirable incidents”.
A man named Al Amin was standing at the intersection around 1 pm and caught the attention of the police. Seeing the police rush at him, he and his companion tried to escape but failed.
Al Amin said he was a driver from Dhanmondi and he was waiting for a mechanic after the car broke down. He proceeded to show his licence and car key. Police, however, sent him off to the station and assured him that he would be let go if he was not deemed to be a suspect.
The other detainee with Al Amin, identified by one name as Nazmul, said he was a sales representative hailing from Mymensingh. He failed to show identification.
Rahmat Ullah, a garment worker, was live-streaming on Facebook from the area when police asked him whether he was a journalist. He was then sent to the police station as well.
The locals complained that police were restricting people from attending Jummah prayers. But Biplob Kumar Sarker, joint police commissioner of DMP, said that was not the case. “In fact, we are assisting it. Around 40-50 people were trying to enter the area shouting Naraye Takbir. Who do you think shouts such slogans?” he asked.
Biplob said the group tried to interfere in police work. “We had them dispersed. This is not a BNP slogan, it is used by Jamaat-e-Islami.”
On why the BNP head office was under lock and key on Friday after police had said it would be opened soon, he said it was still shut keeping people’s “safety” in mind.
“We will open it when we think it’s safe. We can’t afford to give criminals, saboteurs and Jamaat-Shibir people free rein.”