As Bangladesh approaches parliamentary elections, political tensions have risen with the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami's intensified antigovernment protests. Police, in this political turmoil, grapple with increased responsibilities, heightened risks, and escalating operational costs.
The tensions peaked on Oct 28 at a BNP rally, leading to violent clashes in which a police constable was killed, others were injured, and police facilities, including an ambulance and a hospital, were damaged.
Police also had to use expensive imported equipment like tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.
Excluding the expenses from that day, the police in Dhaka are incurring a significantly higher cost to manage their increased responsibilities and maintain law and order during shutdowns, or hartal, and blockades.
Top police officials say this issue is common throughout the country, with the government shouldering extra expenses beyond the regular budget.
Moreover, police are facing injuries and fatalities on the line of duty, and many are falling ill after nonstop work without proper rest.
After several years without any major turmoil, the country's politics has again turned turbulent in the lead up to the parliamentary election.
The BNP enforced nationwide blockades in five phases over their demand for replacing the Awami League administration with a non-partisan caretaker government before the upcoming election.
The party called for a general strike after clashes during the rally and followed it up with blockades that garnered support from like-minded parties.
The Jamaat, a long-time ally of the party, initiated similar programmes separately.
Besides the death of the constable and a BNP supporter, many people, including law enforcers, were injured.
A severely injured policeman has been taken to India for advanced treatment. Officials say that many policemen had severe injuries, with some nearly paralysed.
Police have arrested hundreds of opposition leaders and activists, including BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Standing Committee members Mirza Abbas and Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, while Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi and many others have gone into hiding.
The government has also deployed Border Guard Bangladesh and Bangladesh Ansar units in Dhaka after the clashes.
Following the blockades, the BNP will enforce another hartal, starting on Sunday morning.
Top officers, including joint commissioners and deputy commissioners, said the operational cost has gone significantly up, but could not mention how much exactly.
“From another perspective, this is part of our duty. We always aim to maintain normal public life and ensure law and order,” said Khandaker Mohid Uddin, an additional commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
He said those who work up to 12 hours are provided with a meal, which is a regular practice.
According to the officers, key expenditures also include fuel, while compensation for casualties and medical expenses for the injured are separately assessed.
NEARLY 9,000 POLICE DEPLOYED DAILY IN DHAKA AMID PROTESTS
During hartals and blockades, 8,000 to 9,000 police work during the day and 7,000 at night in the capital, though these numbers may vary based on the situation, according to DMP Joint Commissioner Biplab Kumar Sarkar.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Akhtar Hossain, who was on duty in Kakrail during a blockade, shared that they receive a Tk 140 special food allowance on days like hartals and blockades, but it often takes a week to receive the money.
He also said that they do not get any other extra money apart from the food allowance.
Furthermore, the food from their mess tends to be of low quality during busy days, forcing them to eat outside.
And during major situations, they often do not even have the time to eat.
Md Salahuddin Shikder, DMP deputy commissioner (finance), said they had a list of 8,000 policemen who worked during a recent blockade.
DMP spokesman Faruk Hossain said they provide cash instead of food on such special days because delivering food to those on duty is hard, and the food might be wasted.
EXTRA TK 1.1 MILLION DAILY FOR POLICE LUNCH COSTS
Based on the figures provided by the two officials, the total payment for 8,000 police members for just one day is over Tk 1.1 million.
Salahuddin said police work is hazardous, and members from constables to sub-inspectors regularly receive a risk allowance every month, not just on special days.
According to him, a constable receives around Tk 2,000, a Naik Tk 2,400, an ASI Tk 2,700, and a SI Tk 3,500.
FUEL USE RISES 20-25 PERCENT DURING PROTESTS
In addition to the special food allocation, there are also extra transportation costs during protests, Salahuddin said.
Wahidul Islam, superintendent of police in Barishal, said fuel costs go up when they use more mobile teams during hartals or blockades, but there are no extra costs in other sectors.
He could not give exact numbers but estimated they spend 20 to 25 percent more on such days, saying calculating a typical day's costs would take time.
Deputy Commissioner (transport) Mohammad Naimul Hasan explained that they used to use public transports for special situations, but now the police have more resources.
He acknowledged that there is always extra security in Dhaka city during protests, leading to an increase in fuel consumption because of more patrolling or excessive vehicle use.
PROTESTS LEAD TO MORE VANDALISM AND DAMAGE
If a programme runs smoothly without issues, the costs do not exceed normal estimates. However, when there is vandalism and violence, like what happened in various parts of the country on Oct 28 and during the hartal, police face additional expenses.
For instance, on Oct 28, several police vehicles were damaged, and a full assessment of this loss is still ongoing.
One of the damaged vehicles was a modern ICU-equipped ambulance worth over Tk 10 million, according to DIG Sheikh Md Rezaul Hyder, the director of the Central Police Hospital in Rajarbagh.
WELFARE FUND AND POLICE HOSPITAL
RM Faizur Rahman, a deputy commissioner at DMP’s Welfare and Force Division, discussed how the police help their members who get hurt or die during special events like hartals or blockades.
He explained that if a police member is injured, killed, or encounters any problems while on duty, financial support is provided from the police welfare fund.
This fund comprises contributions from police personnel, and the aid is distributed from this pool of resources.
Faizur noted that depending on the situation, the unit of the injured policeman or higher officials provide financial help.
Constable Shakhawat Hossain from Mohammadupur Police Station said Tk 50 is taken from their monthly salary for the police welfare fund.
Additionally, they contribute Tk 500 twice yearly, totalling Tk 1,000 annually.
He explained, "We can only access the money we contribute. If I face problems during my job, I apply and withdraw money from the welfare fund."
FOOD AND SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Constable Nazmul Haque from Dhaka's Dhamrai area shared that he could not get even six hours of sleep during a recent two-day blockade.
He also had to work around 40 hours during a three-day blockade.
Such a duty without a break disrupts regular eating and sleeping patterns, leading to various physical issues, he said.
He visits the police hospital at least once a month for treatment.
While some medicines are provided free of cost, he has to pay for any medication not covered by the hospital, which adds to his expenses.
DIG Rezaul said police personnel often visit with various ailments, including stomach pain, breathing difficulties, and kidney problems.
During an attack on Chief Justice Obaidul Hassan’s house amid clashes on Oct 28, police used 324 shotgun shells, 133 tear gas canisters, and 16 stun grenades, along with Chinese rifles and SMGs, according to a case filed over the incident.
Around 23 tear gas shells were fired during the clash in Paltan and its surrounding areas.
Police also used two sound grenades and around 176 shotgun rounds to disperse the protests.
Police weapon suppliers say that rubber bullets are priced between Tk 120 and Tk 150 each, tear gas between Tk 150 and Tk 200 per canister, and sound grenades from Tk 2,000 to Tk 4,000 each, depending on their quality.
[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]