Large crowds of Eid returnees are still flocking to the Shimulia port despite the strict measures in place to curb transmission of the coronavirus.
Bangladesh has deployed paramilitary and police personnel to monitor the roads leading to the port. Lines of vehicles lengthen on either side of security checkpoints. That has not stopped the constant flow of determined returnees, some of whom are getting off vehicles on one side of the checkpoint, crossing them and then boarding other vehicles waiting on the other side.
A group of four young men were walking along the Ikuria area around 7:30 am. They had arrived in Dhaka from Chattogram by truck on Monday night and were headed to Madaripur. One of them, Abdul Wahhab, said they had paid the truck driver Tk 1,900 each to bring them from Chattogram to Dhaka. The group crossed the Postogola Bridge on foot, carrying their luggage, because they could not find any other means of transport. Afterwards, the four hired an autorickshaw. The driver told them he could take them as far as the Abdullahpur Toll Plaza for Tk 400 and that they would have to cross the checkpoint and get another vehicle on the other side. Despite haggling for a long time, they were unable to get the driver to lower his fare.
“It cost me Tk 1,900 to take the truck and now I need to pay another Tk 100,” said Wahhab. “Allah knows how much it’s going to cost to get me home.”
BGB personnel were turning all vehicles away from the Abdullahpur Toll Plaza as the day wore on. Private vehicles congested the area in front of the plaza.
Sirajdikhan Ubazila Nirbahi Officer Syed Foyezul Islam was running around the area, wearing wet clothes, as he was drenched in the early morning rain. He has been working there since 3 am. Cars and other passenger vehicles were barred from passing the checkpoint. Some vehicles managed to slip past the barrier as it was raining. People are allowed to cross the checkpoint on foot.
Cries of “Mawa Ghat, Mawa Ghat, Tk 200, only Tk 200” sounded on the other side of the toll plaza. The dump trucks used to work on the Dhaka-Mawa Expressway have been temporarily converted to passenger vehicles. The truck drivers and their assistants are trying to wrangle passengers. Some offer rides for Tk 100, others for Tk 200.
Asked why he was charging Tk 200, pickup driver Mohammad Sohel told passengers that police were stopping vehicles on the highway, five miles from the port, and forcing passengers to get off. He claimed he would take them all the way to the port by making use of the unpatrolled village roads for Tk 200, reports bdnews24.com.
Mohammad Rasel tried and failed to get his elderly father Yusuf Ali Bepari on Sohel’s pickup. The two of them hail from Barishal’s Muladi. Rasel had brought his father to Dhaka to undergo an eye operation, but they are now having trouble getting back home. His father cannot board a crowded transport, Rasel says, but the autorickshaws are charging too much for the trip.
Sometime later, Rasel boarded another truck and was able to pull his father on board, joining a homeward journey with several women and their infants and toddlers.
Many others are headed to the port by motorcycle. Some motorcycles were carrying entire families, including women and, occasionally, several children. They were also laden with luggage, such as pots and pans, kitchen knives, children’s toys, water bottles and tiffin carriers.
Traffic congestion built up in the Sirajdikhan Godown Bazaar area a few kilometres from the Abdullahpur ferry port around 8:30 am. Massive crowds were crossing the toll plaza and boarding trucks and battery-operated rickshaws. In the midst of the hubbub, police seized the keys to several vehicles. The stranded vehicles blocked the roads, causing more congestion. Screaming, shouting and shoving were all around.