A train rumbles down the tracks between vegetable stalls and grocery shops that carry out a brisk trade in the off-limits area inside the railway corridor in the Jurain area of the capital. The picture was taken yesterday
Photo- Rajib Dhar
Jurain Rail Gate is as prone to accidents as ever despite a directive from the prime minister on October 23 to clear railway corridors of illegal squatters.
The railway corridor in the Jurain area of the capital is illegally occupied by shops and hawkers, but the track-side entrepreneurs say they have a right to run their businesses there because they have leased the land from the Bangladesh Railway.
Director General (DG) of Bangladesh Railway Tafazzal Hossain said people were always trying to claim ownership of government-owned land to run their businesses.
A prominent signboard that reads, “Land Leased from Bangladesh Railway,” greets visitors to Jurain Rail Gate New Supermarket and Jurain Rail Gate Bazar, two marketplaces located on either side of the tracks.
Not too far away, a large, official signboard, in Bangla, reads: “A minimum of 20 feet of land must be kept free of establishments on either side of the railway track. In this space no marketplace, temporary shop, slum or hawker is allowed. If any is found, it will be punishable under section 112, 124, 125, 126, 127 of the Railway Act.”
It goes on to offer this warning: “If any accident occurs because of an illegal establishment, the responsibility will lie with the transgressor and under section 131 of Act, the transgressor will be arrested without an arrest warrant.”
In the shadow of this stern warning, some 500 vendors hawk their wares on the track’s access paths.
The modus operandi for the hawkers and their customers is to run to safety when the signalman’s whistle warns of an oncoming train and then carry on with business when the danger has passed.
But running for cover is a risky business practice. On September 11 an accident at Karwan Bazar left four people including two women dead and several injured. After the incident at Karwan Bazar, hawkers quit the tracks for a week as railway authorities began an eviction drive.
But they are back in force and their businesses are in full swing.
On September 13 railway authorities drove hawkers from the railway corridor at Jurain Rail Gate, but three days later influential local leaders and market committee leaders told the evicted hawkers it was okay to return.
“All the hawkers are back on the railway tracks running their risky businesses like before,” said shop owner Amzad Hossain who has owned a shop in the Jurain Rail Gate New Super Market for the last 15 years.
A customer named Iqbal Hossain, who came to the bazar to buy vegetables and fruits, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The hawkers run their businesses in a very risky manner. The railway authorities should evict them permanently and give them a safe space elsewhere.”
The presidents of the cooperative societies of the two marketplaces, Abdur Rahim and Solaiman Hossain, both said they had leased their respective plots of land for commercial use from Bangladesh Railway in 1979.
When asked whether it is legal to do business within 20 feet of the railway tracks, something which is clearly prohibited on the official signboard, neither offered any answer.
Solaiman said hawkers increased the chance of accidents, not shops in the markets. He demanded hawkers be evicted from the tracks and rehabilitated in other places.
When asked about claims that the land alongside the Jurain railway track was leased out, the Bangladesh Railway DG said: “It is true that Bangladesh Railway leased out the land commercially but it never gave permission to use the land within 20 feet of the tracks.”
“We will drive illegal establishments off the Jurain railway track just as similar drives are being conducted on the Dhaka – Narayanganj line,” the DG said.
“First, we will look into the claims of the market committee presidents. Shops on land that was leased from Bangladesh Railway will not be destroyed. But I say again: No establishment can remain within 20 feet of the railway tracks.”