The move has brought forth a few questions:
1. The government spent eight years to compose the law since 2010. Drafts were made four times. Did the government, then, pass the tougher act just to appease the demonstrating students?
2. There is no student movement now but there is pressure from the transport owners and workers. That’s why the initiative has been taken to amend different sections of the law. Is ensuring security not the main goal?
3. The government policymakers said an amendment is necessary as some of the sections of the law are too tough. Does this suggest there is lack of efficiency in composing a foolproof law as several ministries and panels of experts could not come up with such an act even in eight years?
Road Transport Act in limbo
The hope that arose among people because of the students’ movement following the death two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment School and College in an accident on Airport Road in front of Kurmitola General Hospital in the capital on 29 July 2018, has somewhat diminished because of the government’s procrastination to implement the law. The students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment School and College took to the streets first. Then movement spread across the country. But nothing has changed in the three years since then.
According to the passengers’ welfare association Jatri Kalyan Samity, at least 323 people were killed in road accidents even amid Covid-19 restrictions. The number was at least 6,686 including 706 students and 104 teachers in 2020.
The Bengal Motor Vehicle Act-1939 and a 1983 ordinance were the laws related to the transport sector of the country. The initiative to include capital punishment was taken as the tendency to follow the law was almost non-existent because of negligible punishment under the provisions of the laws. Capital punishment was included during the government of army dictator HM Ershad. But the provision was scrapped in the wake of demonstrations by transport owners and workers.
The incumbent Awami League government took initiative to compose a new law in 2010. Drafts were composed four times in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 with an initial proposal to include seven years to life time imprisonment for death in road accidents. The transport owners and workers demanded lessening the punishment during every draft. Finally, the law was passed with the provision of five-year imprisonment.
Despite passing the law in September 2018, the government implemented it on 1 November 2019. But that implementation was postponed for two weeks on the excuse of raising awareness. Actually, the implementation was halted as the transport owners and workers staged demonstrations across the country. Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal held meetings with the transport owners and workers twice and announced almost all the vital sections of the act would not be implemented. He also assured amendment of the law and took steps accordingly.
Initiative to amend before implementation
The government made a draft of the amendment of the act at the end of last year and kept it on the ministry’s website until May this year for people’s opinion. Currently, the law is waiting to be approved by the cabinet. Then the amendment will be sent to parliament. But the officials involved with the amendment process told Prothom Alo that the matter is just a formality.
The existing act defines crimes and stipulates punishments accordingly in 42 sections. The transport owners and workers proposed for amendment in 34 sections after the act was implemented from 1 November 2019. The road transport ministry took cognizance of the 29 sections and made a proposal to amend those. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) could not implement any rules over this for this haggling of transport owners and workers in the last three years.
The fine seemed to be exorbitant to the drivers under some provisions. That is why a proposal has been made to decrease this.Asaduzzaman Khan, home minister
Transport owners and workers told Prothom Alo that their main objective was to decrease the amount of fine mentioned in various sections as police and mobile courts, in most of the cases, impose fine for breaching laws. Besides, the trial of cases filed for death in road accident is held under the criminal act and is time consuming. Most of the cases are not disposed of. The government also has responded to them.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the fine seemed to be exorbitant to the drivers under some provisions. That is why proposal has been made to decrease this. The proposals have been put forward considering the reality and after analysing previous laws.
Proposal to relax tougher sections
The sternest sections of the Road Transport Act are 84, 98 and 105 as that deal with unbailable offences. But proposal said to make sections 84 and 98 bailable. It even proposed to make section 98 as an offence that could be settled.
Section 105 stipulates that the person responsible for death in road accidents could be incarcerated for five years or fined Tk 500,000 or both. But the amendment proposed to decrease the amount of fine to Tk 300,000 keeping the other punishment unchanged.
Section 98 is also about road accidents. It says the driver, conductor or the assistant could be sent to jail for three years or fined Tk 300,000 or both for accidents because of driving at a speed than stipulated, risky overtaking and overloading.
The new proposal has excluded the word overloading. The word speedy driving has been recommended instead of certain speed. However, the jail term and fine haven’t been changed. People concerned said it’s difficult to punish someone by this law because it doesn’t define what speedy driving constitutes as a crime plus exclusion of the word overloading weakens the law.
Section 84 states anyone may face an imprisonment of one to three years or a fine or both on charges of changing the shape of vehicle. If the provision doesn’t change and it is made bailable with room for compromise, it won’t be very effective.
Jatiya Party lawmaker Mashiur Rahman and Awami League leader Khandkar Enayet Ullah are the president and the secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owner Association respectively. Khandkar Enayet Ullah said drivers and owners can’t operate vehicles with huge fines. So, they have been demanding the amendment. He claimed enforcement of such tough law is difficult and that is why the government has amended the law taking owners and workers’ concern into consideration.
All in favour of owners and drivers
All but one recommendation on the amendment to the provisions of the law are related to the punishment of transport drivers, owners and authorities. Only a single provision involves the people.
The act stipulates a licence can’t be obtained without the driver passing at least Class 8 or equivalent in school. The amendment allows a driver who passes Class 5 or equivalent to obtain a licence for three-wheeler.
The law states anyone who drives a vehicle without a driving licence will face six months imprisonment or maximum Tk 25,000 as fine or both. It has been proposed that fine be changed to Tk 15,000 with no change in jail term.
The law stipulates a punishment of six months to two years in jail and a fine of Tk 100,000 to 500,000 or both for preparing, providing and renewing a licence from any unauthorised individual, organisation and association. It has been proposed that fine be changed to Tk 300,000. The part that no driver will distort or change licence has been omitted.
The existing law states a punishment of six months to two years in jail and a fine of Tk 100,000 to 500,000 or both on charges of using fake licence. Proposal has been made to reduce jail term to maximum one year and fine to maximum Tk 25,000 or both.
Under the existing law, if a motor vehicle owner appoints anyone without a licence or whose licence has been revoked will face three months of imprisonment and a fine of Tk 25,000. The amendment proposed to revoke the jail term and reduce fine to Tk 10,000.
There will be a fare chart hanging on public transport and fare will be charged accordingly. Any violation of the law will result in a month of imprisonment or a fine of Tk 10,000 and a point in the driver's record. The amendment proposed to relax this and reduce the fine to Tk 5,000.
The existing law states a punishment of three months in jail or a fine of Tk 20,000 for operating light vehicles, including locally made 'nasimon', 'karimon', and 'bhotbhoti' on highways. The jail term has been proposed for one month but movement of these illegal vehicles are considered the cause of more accidents on highways.
Road accidents won’t decrease by giving punishment. Did the killings even drop after death penalty? In fact, it is necessary to take several more measures that include creating awareness to reduce road accident.Shahjahan Khan, president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation
There is a fine of Tk 5,000 for stopping and parking vehicles and loading-unloading of goods and passengers other than at the designated places. A point of the driver would also be deducted. But, the amendment has proposed to decrease the fine to Tk 1,000.
Awami League presidium member Shahjahan Khan is the president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, the top transport workers’ body in the country. They are happy since the law is being relaxed. He said road accident won’t decrease by giving punishment. Did the killings even drop after death penalty? In fact, it is necessary to take several more measures that include creating awareness to reduce road accident.
There is a provision for preventing public anger and damage to vehicle after a road accident. Violation of the provision results a month of imprisonment and a fine of Tk 10,000. The amendment has proposed to increase the fine to Tk 20,000.
The existing law allows departmental action against any employee concerned for providing a fitness clearance to a ramshackle, environment-polluting and unfit vehicle. A change has been proposed to clear charge against the employee concerned.
Three is a punishment of six months of imprisonment or a fine of Tk 50,000 for not carrying passenger in CNG-run auto rickshaw on meter. Owners of CNG-run auto rickshaw also faces same penalty for realising more than the daily rent from the drivers. The amendment has proposed to reduce jail term to three months and fine to Tk 25,000.
The proposed amendment has completely been in favour of transport owners and workers.lias Kanchan, founding chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai
Film actor and founding chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, Ilias Kanchan, has long been demanding safer roads. He told Prothom Alo the proposed amendment has completely been in favour of transport owners and workers. In fact, like the police and administration, leaders of transport sector are also very powerful, he added.
Ilias Kanchan said the government gives more importance to transport sector’s leaders than people. That’s why efforts to make them happy is being seen in the proposed amendment. He said they also gave their opinions on the amendment. Now they are waiting to see how much the government will fulfill the people’s demands. The road transport act was passed quickly in the wake of the students’ road safety movement. Making the act less effective through amendment is simply trampling on hope for safe roads, he added.
* This report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza and Hasanul Banna