Three siblings, Kendall, Courtney and Trevor Islam, based in California, USA have taken it upon themselves to provide football boots to the girls of Safura Khatun Girls High School in Karimpur - a remote char (island) in Narshingdi.
This brilliant idea surfaced when Kendall visited the school in 2014, which was founded by her grandfather. The schoolgirls’ passion for the game and their skills are what that drove the Kendall and her siblings to initiate the campaign called "Kickstart Karimpur" in October, 2015.
“Their soccer skills were impressive, but they played in traditional Bengali clothing and sandals. After returning home, we wanted to support the school in a way that was special to both the students and to us, so we started an organization called "KickStart Karimpur" to collect soccer cleats and donate them to the girls,” Kendal writes in the project’s homepage.
Kendall and her siblings managed to collect 120 pairs of shoes and additionally raised funds to cover the shipment cost within December 2015. Unfortunately, the schoolgirls of Karimpur did not ultimately receive the football boots as they are held by the Customs Authority at Dhaka Shahjalal International Airport since they arrived back in January 2016, for paying off customs duty of $2500 which is equivalent to Tk. 1,60,000, an amount that neither Kendall and her siblings nor the school can afford to pay.
INTELLECT.com.bd captured the news and published it in February 2016. A team of lawyers from Old Bailey Chambers took interest in the issue and took it up on pro-bono basis. For over seven months now, the lawyers at Old Bailey Chambers have been fighting for the release of the football boots on legal grounds. In February they wrote to NBR seeking exemption of customs duty worth Tk. 160,000, so that the boots are released without having to pay the duty. Customs law allows NBR to exempt any goods from payment of duty, in public interest under circumstances of exceptional nature. NBR never paid any attention to that letter.
The lawyers’ team to find a way out for the boots filed a Writ Petition on 11.04.2016 seeking direction from the High Court. High Court issued Rule Nisi. No interim order was passed though. Later on during the Rule hearing, the Government Counsels’ vehemently opposed the duty exemption. They argued that the recipient Safura Khatun Girls High School must first obtain an NOC from Ministry of Commerce, and then for being an educational institution apply to Ministry of Education for permission.
“The proposition made by the Government lawyers at the High Court is completely unknown to, and not prescribed by any statute or law in Bangladesh. The 120 pairs of used boots were collected through charity in USA and were then sent to the School for charitable purpose in public interest. They were not imported, and cannot be termed as ‘import’. But the Government lawyers kept on pressing the same time and again, and thus consumed few good months as Barrister Hamidul Mishbah, the lawyer for the Writ Petition commented.
On 23rd August 2016, High Court passed an order directing the customs to exempt boots from paying the customs duty, and further, observed that the distribution of the shoes be done in presence of the local UNO & Upazila Education Officer.
“With passing of this order the wait for the coveted football boots could have been over soon for the schoolgirls! But then, along came the "crusader of government duty” - a superficial character from the government’s armor, who aspired to leave no stone unturned to deny the poor and disadvantageous schoolgirls their long cherished desire of playing football wearing boots, in the name of ensuring earning a lump sum duty of Tk. 160,000 upon suppressing a greater public interest. This incident draws our attention to the utter lack of guidelines in our country as to how government organs weigh the importance of greater public interest as opposed to petite pecuniary benefits, i.e. collecting Tk. 160,000 duty,” Nahid Hossain, a lawyer at Old Bailey Chambers, commented.
Well, only time will tell, whether a ‘genuine cause and public interest’ would get preference over government collecting a mere amount of Tk. 160,000 as duty from the used boots.