Vol. 4 Num 48 Sun. July 13, 2003  

Sylhet Osmani airport a nightmare for passengers

Hassle and harassment of passengers at Sylhet Osmani International Airport by a section of airport employees go unabated.

Incidents of virtual snatching of passport, money and valuables and loss of luggage in a everyday affair, sources said. Sometimes they misbehave with passengers in presence of officials, who play the role of spectators.

In the last one year, three inquiry committees suggested steps against an organised group of CAAB (Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh) employees to stop the hassle and harassment, but nothing has been done, the sources said.

There has been no improvement in passenger service three years after upgrading it to an international airport though revenue earning from this station has gone up considerably with increased number of passengers from abroad.

The national carrier Biman Bangladesh --earns 60 per cent of its revenue from this station.

Biman operates at least five flights a week to this airport from destinations like Kuwait, Dubai and London.

The organized group of CAAB employees are working at the airport for at least 15 years.

They swoop on incoming passengers within minutes of their arrival at the Customs Lounge on the plea of assisting them. They also harass outgoing passengers at the checking counter.

Though several departmental enquiries were done by officials from Dhaka, nothing could be done as the "gang is very strong and has links with influentials", one sources said.

A number of confidential reports said that a gang of 16 CAAB employees are directly involved in different crimes.

In June 2002, the then Officer-in- Charge, Immigration, in a written complaint to the Airport Manager said that 16 CAAB employees were directly involved in "unwanted activities" at the customs lounge, immigration and checking counter. In the report he also listed the employees and suggested "punitive measures" against them to stop passengers' harassment.

"At times the situation goes beyond the control of police officials and others due to wrongdoings by members of the group", the report had said.

In November last year, another official in charge of airport immigration police in a confidential report to the Superintendent of Police, Special Branch said that 16 CAAB employees from Security Supervisor to trolley men were directly involved in cheating passengers in different ways.

He also alleged that the Airport Manager ignored the allegations when the matter was brought to his notice.

Besides, the OC, Immigration sent two other confidential reports on July 8 and July 19 last year elaborating some incidents of harassment of passengers.

In May this year, an Assistant Director from CAAB head office in Dhaka did an inquiry into the allegations against the CAAB employees. "But things were managed after the inquiry" another source said.

There are 52 CAAB security men at the airport.

There is no sitting arrangement in the concourse hall for the passengers.

Suffering of an overseas passenger starts as he enters the lounge and puts the luggage on the scanning machine, which is almost inoperative. The CAAB security guards, in the name of security checking, charge tips at high rates. A security guard looks after the scanning machine though there is an operator for it. It is very easy to harass a passenger in the name of overweight of the luggage and unauthorised items in it.

A new scanning machine brought for the airport about eight months back is in Dhaka for unknown reasons. The sources said the organized group does not want it to be installed here.

An official seeking anonymity said the situation can not be brought under control until the 'listed employees', who had been here for long over 15 years are removed.

There is no good canteen in the airport. Water supply system and toilet facilities are not up to the mark.

'We are paying Tk 300 as airport tax, but not getting the minimum facility", Alauddin, a passenger from Kuwait said on Sunday last.

" The moment I entered the Customs area, two young men, who identified themselves as airport employees came to me and asked whether I needed any assistance. At one stage, they tried to take my passport and ticket to get things cleared from the Customs counter. They also proposed for arranging a transport for me", Alauddin added.