The law was officially declared effective around one year and two months it was passed. The transport owners and workers then demanding that the law be amended. They declared a strike to this end, bringing the entire country to a standstill. The home minister then held two rounds of meetings with the transport owners and workers, and assured them that the law would be amended.

Towards the end of last year, initiative was taken to amend the law, relaxing almost all of its provisions. In 42 sections of the Road Transport Act, there is mention of crime and strict punishment. From 1 November 2019 after initiative was taken to implement the act, the transport sector owners and workers proposed changes in 34 of the sections. The road transport ministry took 29 of these into cognizance and recommended that these be amended. As a result of this bargaining over the law with the transport owners and workers, even the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has failed to come up with the relevant regulations in this regard.

The amendment proposal has now been sent to the cabinet division for approval. Once approved there, it will be placed before the parliament to be passed.

The prime minister had ordered restrooms to be set up for drivers along the highway. Three years have passed but this has not been implemented. Pedestrians don’t follow the laws. Everyone has their faults
Shahjahan Khan, Awami League presidium member and former minister

Additional secretary of the road transport ministry Yusuf Ali Mollah had been in charge of looking into the amending of this act. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said that the initiative to amend the act had been taken up on the basis of recommendations by the three-member committee headed by the home minister and other practical considerations. This is not a matter of pressure from any quarter, he said.

Another major demand of the students was that vehicles without fitness certificates would not be allowed on the roads and drivers without licences would not be permitted to drive. But after the meeting with the home minister, it was not possible to implement this. BRTA submitted its report to the High Court in July 2019. It revealed that there were 479,000 (4 lakh 79 thousand) vehicles without fitness. BRTA sources said that with the outbreak of coronavirus, renewal of fitness certificates had been relaxed. As a result, the number of vehicles without fitness increased. At the same time, the number of drivers did not increase.

In the meantime, nothing has been done about allowing half fare for students in public transport. The Prime Minister’s Office had issued a 30-point directive to ensure safe roads.

Sources in the road transport ministry say that the government is perturbed when the students take to the streets in agitation. Yet the transport owners and workers are powerful within the government. The government is reluctant to displease them.

Awami League presidium member and former minister Shahjahan Khan has for long given leadership to workers in the transport sector. Again, Jatiya Party leader Mashiur Rahman and Awami League Dhaka city (South) unit vice president Khandakar Enayet Ullah are top leaders of the transport owners’ association. They are members of almost all the road transport ministry and BRTA committees related to road safety.

When asked about the matter, Shahjahan Khan told Prothom Alo, it is true that the owners and drivers put up obstructions, but all their obstructions are not unreasonable. There is a lacking within the government too. He said the prime minister had ordered restrooms to be set up for drivers along the highway. Three years have passed but this has not been implemented. Pedestrians don’t follow the laws. Everyone has their faults.

Road accidents increase

The police keep official records of road accidents. According to their records, 22,629 road accidents occurred in 2018, in which 2,635 persons were killed. In 2019 the number of accidents increased to 4,147 and the number of deaths increased to 4,138. During a large part of last year the country was under coronavirus restrictions. There was a fall in vehicular movement. But the deaths did not drop. Last year there were 4,198 road accidents with 3,918 deaths. In the first eight months of this year till August, there were 3,701 road accidents and 3,502 deaths.

Former director of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology’s road accident research institute, Moazzem Hossain, told Prothom Alo no plan or initiative was taken to reduce road accidents or deaths. There is no reason for the accidents to reduce at the government’s statements. The government took no measures to ensure that the transport owners, workers or pedestrians follow the law.

Amendments in the interests of transport owners-workers

Sources in the road transport ministry said that all but one the sections of the act which have been called to be relaxed by means of amendment, are related to punishment of the drivers, owners and the authorities. Only one of the sections is related to public interest.

The strictest sections of the Road Safety Act are sections 84, 98 and 105, dealing with non-bailable offences. But the proposal calls for an amendment of sections 84 and 98. In fact, it has been called to make provision for compromise in the case of the offence in section 98.

Founder of Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Want Safe Roads), Ilias Kanchan, told Prothom Alo the transport owners and workers are within the government and so the government looks after their interests

Section 105 calls for five-year imprisonment or Tk 500,000 fine, or both, for killing in a road accident. The five-year sentence remains intact in the proposal for amendment, but it has been proposed to reduce the Tk 500,000 fine to Tk 300,000.

Section 98 is also related to road accidents. This provides for three-year imprisonment or Tk 300,000, or both, for the driver, conductor or helper, in the case of over-speeding, risky overtaking or overloading.

Govt acts only under pressure

Work on enacting a new law to bring order to the roads began in 2010. In 2011 when cinema personality Tareque Masud and journalist Mishuk Munier were killed in a road accident, civil society and the general public rose up in protest. This strengthened the demand for enactment of a law. But once this movement subsided, the transport owners and workers called for a strike. A gathering was held at the Shaheed Minar where the pictures of eminent persons including actor Ilias Kanchan, a staunch safe road activist, were defaced.

Drafts of the Road Safety Act were drawn up four times, in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. In the beginning the penalty for killing in a road accident was from seven years imprisonment to life term. Every time a draft was drawn up, the road transport owners and workers demanded the penalty to be reduced. The draft act has been relaxed and this trend continues.

Founder of Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Want Safe Roads), Ilias Kanchan, told Prothom Alo the transport owners and workers are within the government and so the government looks after their interests. When the students or the general public take to the streets, the government shows some action. But then they are quelled once again when the transport owners and workers put pressure on them. Unless pressure stronger than that of the owners and workers can be applied, the government will not come to its senses.

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