To supply essential products to consumers across the country, wholesalers buy the goods from importers, who store them in different warehouses in the Majhirghat, Port Colony, Pahartali, and Nimtala areas of Chattogram.
The wholesalers receive delivery orders from the importers' offices in Chattogram's Khatunganj area to collect the goods from the warehouses.
However, the merchants have said they cannot get their goods delivered just by showing the delivery orders at warehouses. They have to pay "tips" to the clerks there.
The businessmen allege that they have to pay warehouse owners Tk500 for each 12-tonne truck carrying goods from the Majhirghat to Chaktai-Khatunganj business hub in Chattogram and Tk2,200 for each 22-tonne truck carrying goods to different districts outside Chattogram.
According to the businessmen, around 1,000 big trucks transport goods to different districts across the country every day, which means the warehouse owners, who are locally known as majhis, are extorting around Tk22 lakh from wholesalers for these trucks.
At the same time, around a hundred 12-tonne trucks carry goods from warehouses to Chaktai-Khatunganj every day – for which warehouse owners illegally collect Tk50,000 from wholesalers.
Regarding the extra money paid as tips, Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association's General Secretary Syed Sagir Ahmed said, "This is no tip. This is a form of extortion. They force businessmen to pay the money."
"Complaining to the importers has no effect," said the trade body leader.
However, Ali Majhi, owner of a warehouse in Majhirghat, brushed aside all such allegations and said, "Worker leaders collect the extra money. The majhis have no involvement in it."
But an employee of Haque Trading said he had to give a Tk500 tip each to clerks at the warehouses of Ali Majhi and Kabir Majhi on Wednesday and Thursday to take his delivery of pulses.
Sanjay Deb Khokon, a consumer goods merchant and president of Pulses Mill Owners' Association, "Said majhis collect these extra money through their clerks. A small number of majhis are holding the consumer goods sellers of the whole country hostage."
Elaborating on the effect of this extortion, Sanjay said earlier carrying each kilogramme of goods from Majhirghat to Chaktai-Khatunganj typically cost Tk0.4, but now it costs Tk1.
"Consumers bear the burden of this extra transportation cost in the increased price of products," said Sanjay.
People involved in the business said the wholesalers have no way to escape the extortion, as delivery orders mention traders' addresses, which is the destination of those trucks. Wholesale traders do not give false addresses for the delivery orders to ensure a safe passage through the checkposts on the roads.
The wholesalers also have to pay Tk5 for every sack of goods loaded on the truck. Although the porters are supposed to get the money, they get Tk1 for each sack, while the warehouse clerks keep the rest, alleged the workers.
These warehouse owners have amassed huge amounts of wealth by extorting money from the importers, businessmen and workers year after year. All of them live in posh areas in Chattogram district, said sources.
Some of the most notably rich of these warehouse owners are: Ali Majhi, Kabir Majhi, M Rahman Majhi, Malek Majhi – and owners of Ahmad Trading Corporation, Ali Enterprise, Nasir Brothers, Chowdhury Enterprise.
Meanwhile, harassment of the wholesalers does not stop at paying tips for every truck, and excessive fees for loading sacks. They also have to pay more than the usual amount needed to rent a truck as they are forced to rent them from three truck owners' associations near the warehouses.
Azizul Haque, proprietor of Haque Trading, said, "Renting a 12-tonne truck to carry goods from Majhirghat to Chaktai-Khatunganj usually costs around Tk1,500, if we can rent it from someplace we prefer. But renting similar trucks from the owners' associations in Majhirghat area costs Tk3,700."
"Similarly, truck renters outside the Majhirghat area usually charge around Tk12,000-15,000 for an 18-tonne truck carrying goods from Chattogram to Dhaka, Sylhet, Rajshahi, and parts of the country, but the owners' associations in Majhirghat area charge Tk18,000-25,000 for similar trucks headed towards the similar destinations," said Azizul Haque.
According to businessmen, there are three truck owners' associations – Majhirghat Truck Transportation Owners' Association, Port Colony Truck Owners' Association and the Nimtala Truck Owners' Association – near the warehouses.
Members of these associations prevent businessmen from using trucks rented outside of these associations and force the wholesalers to rent trucks from them.