Anwarul Islam, a mango trader, came from Dinajpur to Dhaka with a truck load of fresh mango Saturday night. At 3 am police stopped his truck at Abdullahpur check post at the northern entry point of Dhaka.
The on duty policemen with a hand held formalin testing machine claimed that the mangoes were contaminated with formalin.
Islam was shocked to hear that his truck load of mangoes would be seized and damaged, down with it will go his yearlong savings he invested in mango business.
He pleaded with the police officers to explain that the mangoes were directly brought from the orchards in Dinajpur. He personally supervised the plucking and packaging of the fruits.
Throughout the day, he shuttled several times between Uttara police station and the check-post. Finally, late in the evening he got a no-objection certificate to release his truck.
Islam heaved a sigh of relief after his nightmare was over after a gruelling 17 hours stand off.
"I challenged the police officers that the truckload of mangoes was free from formalin. The police wanted bribe to release the truck. As I offered far less an amount, they told me to go to Uttara police station to have my truck released. But the Uttara thana officer-in-charge refused to hear my plea."
The police station advised him to return to the check post to resolve the issue. He shuttled between the check post at Abdullahpur and the Uttara thana for most of the night.
The police harassment came to an end only after the magistrate turned up at the check-post in the evening. He told the Daily Observer that during the day time on Sunday he tried to release his truck through a negotiated solution with a local Awami League leader. He offered Tk 15,000 to the leader, but the latter demanded five thousand more due to which the negotiation could not be done.
Such police harassment has caused widespread agitation of traders and fruit vendors who are in fear of mobile courts with poor experience in testing toxic chemicals in seasonal fruits.
In protest of the harassment and to reduce their colossal loss of their business, the fruit traders and sellers are planning a shut down on June 19 against the harassment and financial loss, sources in the wholesale market said. Traders also said that due to the negligence and lax monitoring by district administration at mango growing regions they have to face the mobile courts with poor detecting equipment.
Mango traders blame law enforcement agencies. They said if government wanted to ensure the supply of formalin free mango then it would have to take adequate actions against these fraudulent businessmen in the remote areas.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) began drives against chemically treated seasonal fruits from June 11 and pledged to ensure chemical free summer's delicacy to consumers.
The detection to ensure formalin free fruits and other food items will require a team headed by executive magistrates, officials from Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute (BSTI) and members of law enforcement agencies.
Earlier a vigilance team swooped on all major roads towards the capital. Check posts were set up at Postogola Bridge, Signboard area under Jatrabari police station, Demra Crossing, Babubazar Bridge, Sadargat and Waiz Ghat, Gabtoli, Abdullahpur bridge and Dhour bridge.
However, mobile courts have been using wrong method with not so effective hand held detecting equipment to test chemicals, said a scientist of Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR).
They used Formaldehyde Meter Z-300 over the last two years for detecting formalin in fish, fruits and vegetables. But food scientists claim that the kit is meant to measure chemicals or gases in the air of laboratories, not for food items.
It is not used for detecting formalin in food in the US, the origin of the instrument.
In Bangladesh, mobile courts put the food items in a polythene packet and measure formalin inside it with the handheld device.
The device comes under question at a time when mobile courts and DMP are conducting drives to check formalin use which has created widespread panic among consumers.