Another accident took place in the country. Some 19 people died. Afterwards it was learnt that the driver was tired from driving over 30 hours out of 48 hours. The bus had no permission to run and the tenure of its fitness certificate had expired.
The accident took place on the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Expressway at Shibchar of Madaripur last Sunday.
Earlier, six brothers died after a pickup van ran over them at Chakaria of Cox's Bazar in February 2022. Later it was learnt that the pickup had no updated documents of permission while the driver had no licence.
In most of the cases after road accidents in the country, it is found the vehicle had no permission for plying or had no route permit, nor fitness certificate. In many cases the drivers had no driving licence.
Stakeholders said such anarchy on the road has been going for long. The road transport and bridges ministry is unable to take effective steps to brig an end to the chaos on the road.
Not only in these areas, the ministry could not bring in any change in implementing bus and auto rickshaw fares set by the government, in simplifying the services of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and reducing corruption, improving the quality of road and implementing projects with stipulated time and cost.
The situation has reached such a level that passengers are run over and beaten up over quarrels related to bus fare.
Obaidul Quader took charge of the road transport and bridges ministry on 5 December 2011. In the beginning after taking charge he would go on field visits to see the condition of the roads. He spoke about irregularities. He scolded officials openly. He was known to say things to the officians like, 'Masud, mend your ways!'
Such activities of the minister evoked hope. The passengers thought, there will be a change this time. After 11 years of Obaidul Quader as minister, it is found discipline is not restored on the road, rather deaths have increased.
The Padma Bridge has been built during the tenure of Obaidul Quader as minister and several big projects like the metro rail are being implemented. However, these projects are under the Fast Track project of the government.
The prime minister's office is monitoring the implementation of these projects. The tenure and cost of only those projects under the transport ministry are being increased repeatedly.
The Bus Rapid Transit Project is an example. This project was undertaken in 2012 to launch a special bus for 20 kilometers from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Gazipur's Joydevpur. The BRT was supposed to open in 2016. But the project is yet to be completed. The estimated cost of the project was Tk 20.40 billion. But the cost increased to Tk 42.68 billion.
The BRT project has been causing sufferings to the people due to the mismanagement over a decade. Moreover, seven people have died in girder accidents twice.
The moon has scars. Does that detract from its brightness? There are invariably glitches while working.
After independence of the country, 25 people have worked as ministers in the communication or transport ministry. None of them worked over seven years. Only road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader has been at the helm over one decade.
He was the general secretary of Awami League for three consecutive terms. Stakeholders said Obaidul Quader has the political power to do his work as a minister. But the work was not accomplished.
The minister is the main person of any ministry. The secretary is the administrative chief. The public administration experts think the liability of any failure of the ministry falls on the political leadership.
At a press conference at the conference room of the transport ministry on 8 March, this correspondent pointed out that after taking charge the minister gave priority to restore discipline on the road, reduce accidents and traffic congestion. How do you view the situation as there is no change?
The minister said, "A man is never perfect in his work and duty. The moon has scars. Does that detract from its brightness? There are invariably glitches while working. There are failures and there are successes; hundred per cent success is not possible."
When Obaidul Quader took over as the general secretary of Awami League, he lessened paying visits to the ministry. Currently he visits the ministry one day a week, sometimes two days a month if there is an important meeting or call on by foreign diplomats.
However, many think discipline on the road is a question of life and death of people. No shortcoming here is acceptable. Safe roads were on the election manifesto of Awami League. According to the party manifesto of 2018, steps would be taken against drivers without licences, to modernise the traffic system, not to permit vehicles without fitness, adopt proper rules to provide licences to the drivers and to implement Transport Act 2018 to reduce road accidents to the minimum level. The party general secretary is unable to fulfill this commitment of the manifesto.
Tasks of the transport ministry
As part of strategy, there needs to be website of roads and highways department, the highway network has to be developed, expansion and maintenance has to be ensured, high speed transport system has to be introduced and expanded, road safety has to be strengthened, government transport system has to be expanded, the capacity of highways department has to be increased, motorised vehicles system has to be modernised and good governance activities have to be implemented.
Stakeholders said the ministry focuses on the development activities like prcurement, floating tenders and providing work to the contractors. But there is a huge deficiency in developing management, removing corruption and the work related to good governance.
After taking charge as the minister, Obaidul Quader at times would go out to inspect the activities of the mobile court. According to the annual report of the ministry of 2012, the minister visited 59 districts and 210 upazilas more than once. At that time, he in disguise of a passenger got into buses to check whether excess fare is being charged from the passengers. It was seen he checked fitness certificates on the bus. Now he is not seen carrying out that task.
The road transport and bridges ministry sources said Obaidul Quader is not attending the ministry regularly. That is not only the current trend, since he became the general secretary of Awami League in 2016, he is not regularly attending his office. Currently he attends office one day a week, sometimes two to four times a month he goes to his office. That is also when there is a press conference, or call on of foreign diplomats. Ministry officials said the minister stays for a little while if he comes. In many instances, his personal officers go to his house to have files and documents of the ministry or the department signed.
Bad condition of bus, random in fare
Although metro rail was launched recently, bus, CNG-run auto rickshaw and taxicab are the means of transport in Dhaka and Chattogram. Most of the buses and mini buses are dilapidated. The clothes of the passengers become dirty from the seats. The transport owners have set up seats at their wish. Passengers are crowded together while additional fare is being taken in the name of 'seating service'. However, the ministry is unable to control this.
CNG-run auto-rickshaw was introduced in 2003 in Dhaka and Chattogram. But the fixed fare system was not followed ever. It can be said there is no taxi service in the city. There is are ride-sharing services. The government has no control over that.
Rickshaw and min-bus type of vehicles called 'human-haulers' and 'Tempo' have been alternative transport due to this bad condition of public transport. And there is no guideline or authorities of these transports.
Fariha Rahman works for a private companu in Tegaon of the capital. Speaking to Prothom Alo, she said, "It is not possible for a woman to get on a bus in the morning in Dhaka. Auto rickshaws demand a double fare. I have to spend Tk 15,000 as conveyance go to office."
She said those, who are responsible to launch disciplined transport service and remove anarchy in auto rickshaw fare, ride in government vehicles. They have no obligation to remove anarchy.
The two highest policy making forums of the government are the National Road Safety Council and the National Road Safety Advisory Council. They are responsible to ensure discipline on the road and reduce road accidents. As the minister of road transport and bridges ministry, Obaidul Quader is the chief of these forums. The committee holds meetings at times and takes decisions. But traffic congestion in the city, anarchy on roads and highways or deaths from road crashes have not decreased.
When the students took to the streets demanding safe roads in 2018, the government became active. The transport minister gave the responsibility to the transport leader and Awami League presidium member Shajahan Khan to make recommendations in a bid to restore discipline on the road. A 22-member committee led by him submitted 111 recommendations in September 2019. The transport minister gave the responsibility to a task force led by home minister Asaduzzaman to implement the recommendations.
Instead of taking responsibility himself, the transport minister gave the responsibility to others but that did not yield any positive result. The Road Transport Act has not been effective fully. Following pressure from the transport owners and workers, Obaidul Quader gave the responsibility to the home minister, the law minister and railway minister to review the act. Later, they made proposals for amendment of the law. The amendment proposal was submitted last year, but there is no headway.
In 2005, in a transport plan of 20 years, a recommendation was given to introduce bus route rationalisation to remove anarchy in transport in Dhaka. The main target of this special arrangement was to remove dilapidated buses and launch news buses and restore discipline in the transport sector. This plan was in cold storage for a decade. Being elected in 2015, Dhaka North City Corporation mayor Annisul Huq took forward the task. Now Dhaka South City Corporation mayor Fazle Noor Taposh is implementing it. He has been able to launch 'Dhaka Nagar Paribahan' in three routes. But there are various allegations over this service.
Death increasing on the road
When the students took to the streets demanding safe roads in 2018, the government policymakers said, "The children have opened our eyes, awoken our conscience."
But there is no change. Deaths on the road are increasing. According to the government estimate, some 2460 people have died in the fiscal year of 2015-16. Deaths have increased every year. According to the Road Safety Foundation, 7713 people died from road accidents in 2022.
Safe vehicles, skilled drivers and good roads are the basic elements of a safe road. It is lacking in all three areas. There are allegations that dilapidated vehicles are getting licenses easily from BRTA. The licence of drivers is examined in name. The regulatory body cannot provide licenses timely. According to the latest update, 481,000 people are waiting for licences.
The accident that took place at Shibchar of Madaripur on last Sunday could be tackled if the guideline of prime minister Sheikh Hasina of 2018. In a cabinet meeting, the prime minister gave five directives. Those are: not allowing a driver to drive a bus more than eight hours, construction of rest houses for long route drivers beside the highway, keeping alternative drivers for long routes. But those were not implemented.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Shibchar highway police officer-in-charge Abu Nayeem Md Mofazzal Haque said he primarily came to know that the driver was tried for driving for a long time at a stretch. He lost control as he extremely sleepy while driving.
Lacking in coordination too
All development projects of the communication and transport sector in and around Dhaka are supposed to be implemented under the 20-year transport plan. Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) is in charge of it. Road transport and bridge minister Obaidul Quader is the chairman of its board of directors. Two mayors of Dhaka are vice chairmen. Secretaries and chiefs of concerned 26 ministries and offices are the members. However, one agency is implementing different projects.
Dhaka Mass Transit Company Limited (DMTCL) under the road transport and bridges ministry is constructing six metro rail lines. Millions of taka will be invested for this. But the bridges division under the same ministry has conducted a feasibility study of the same mass transport system subway at the cost of Tk 3.21 billion. On the contrary, due to construction of the metro rail, parts of the 300 ft road constructed at a cost of Tk 12.5 billion had be demolished.
Less projects for safe roads
According to the road transport and highways division, about Tk 1350 billion has been spent through various projects including roads, bridges, metro rails and flyovers in 10 years since 2010-13. On the contrary, more Tk 400 billion has been spent in different projects including the Padma Bridge, the Bangabandhu Tunnel under the Karnaphuli River and Dhaka elevated expressway. The expenditure includes maintenance of the revenue sector and salaries and allowances.
Now a total of 144 projects under the roads and highways department are being implemented. About 150 were being implemented for a decade. Projects related to safe roads are very few. Curves of 148 regional and national highways have been made straight at the cost of Tk 1.65 billion. Earlier, four years ago, Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) prepared a project to train up 300,000 skilled drivers at the cost of Tk 977 billion. That project has not been approved yet.
A project was undertaken in 2019 to build four rest houses at the cost of Tk 2.26 billion. According to the roads and highways department , the project advanced 50 per cent in three years.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, road safety organisation awareess Nirapad Sarak Chai founder chairman Ilias Kanchan said prime minister Sheikh Hasina has built the Padma Bridge as she had sincerity and strong will. The road transport ministry has failed to show strong will and sincerity to make the road safe. He said, "My proposal is that a separate department led by a senior secretary of the prime minister's office can be created, and they will make the road safe by coordinating with others."
When asked who is liable for failing to restore discipline on the road, Ilias Kanchan said the road transport minister himself told journalists that he failed to restore discipline on the road.
Focus on mega projects
There is a question as to how far the ministry has been successful in implementing mega projects. Because, the projects of the ministry are in the cycle of procrastination and increasing cost. For example, prime minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the construction of Dhaka Elevated Expressway in 2011. The progress of the project is 35 per cent till January. At the beginning the estimated cost was Tk 119.20 billion. Later the cost was increased by Tk 19.38 billion.
A project was approved in 2013 to turn 70 kilometers of road stretching from Joydevpur of Gazipur to Elenga of Tangail into four lanes.
At the beginning the estimated cost was Tk 27.88 billion. The project was supposed to end in 2018. The cost increased to Tk 62.14 billion. The road was opened in December. But some unfinished work is going on.
A project was taken up in 2016 to turn 90 kilometers of road from Elenga to Rangpur into four lanes. The project was supposed to end in 2021. Only 41 per cent work has been completed till last December. The project cost increased from Tk 118.99 billion to Tk 166.62 billion.
Questions have been raised over the cost of construction of roads. In June 2017, the World Bank Dhaka office at a press conference said Bangladesh spends much more than China and India for constructing per kilometer road. High corruption, work not finished in stipulated time and no competition in the tender process lead to this high cost.
The World Bank then said the cost was estimated at USD 6.6 million for four lanes between Rangpur-Hatikumrul, USD 7 million for Dhaka-Sylhet highway, USD 11.9 million for Dhaka-Mawa highway, USD 2.5 million for Dhaka-Chattogram highway and USD 2.5 million for Dhaka-Mymensingh highway. However, USD 11-1.3 million for four lanes in India and USD 1.3 million to1.6 million in China.
'Ministry couldn't show success'
Transport expert and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Accident Research Institute (ARI) director Shamsul Haque said communication infrastructure is important for economic development. The investment was low in this sector for a long time. The government has emphasized investing in this sector. This is a good initiative. But it is merely an element to restore discipline on the road. Whether the driver and vehicle is okay is also important. The road transport and the bridges ministry has not been successful in this regard.