Unlike others laws passed on the same day, the Road Transport Act is yet to come into force to bring order to the unruly road transport system in the country.
The act, a potential game changer in ensuring road safety, was passed in parliament on 19 September last year following a massive student protest demanding road safety after the death of two students.
Another two acts- the Digital Security Act and act to recognise top Qawmi degree Dawra-e-Hadith as equivalent to master's in Islamic studies and Arabic- were enacted right away despite both being controversial.
The road transport act included provisions such as drivers’ mandatory education qualifications, six-month imprisonment or 25,000 taka penalty for drivers without licence, three years jail or 250,000 taka penalty for accidents due to speeding and more.
The road transport workers, right after the road transport act was passed, went on strike, demanding amendment of certain provisions. The government did not publish the gazette for the act and formed a committee on 17 February this year, chaired by former shipping minister Shahjahan Khan.
Notably, Shahjahan Khan is also the executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation.
The committee finalised a draft of 111 recommendations, a number of which are old. Similar recommendations undertaken by government and others in the past, have invariably slipped into oblivion.
Experts believe, the government is facing difficulty in enforcing the transport act due to pressure from various sections of transport owners and workers, raising the question as to whether the government actually wants to bring order and discipline to the chaotic roads.
The act is to be enacted on the date mentioned in the relevant government gazette, according to section 1(2) of the Road Transport Act.
The act could not be enforced as the government did not publish any gazette, said Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua, also the vice chairman of the Road Safety Foundation.
According to the Road Transport and Highway Department, a committee comprising three cabinet members was formed to determine the challenges to implementing the Road Transport Act during a meeting of the Road Safety Council on 16 February. Despite the urgency, the committee has not held any meeting to take a decision on the the matter as yet.
The road transport and highways secretary Nazrul Islam said, the committee was supposed to discuss and make a decision about enforcing the law, but it was delayed as the road transport minister fell ill.
According to the Road Safety Foundation, 1163 people died in road accidents in the first three months of this year. The students again took to the streets demanding safe roads following the death of another student Abrar on 19 March which revived the demand for implementation of the Road Transport Act.
The draft of current Road Transport Act was passed in the parliament on 27 March 2017. Transport workers laid siege to the streets at the time, demanding amendment of the draft act.
Denying allegations that the transport owners and workers were obstructing the law, the secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association Khandakar Enayet Ullah said, the owners and workers also wanted that the act to be enacted as soon as possible.
Experts feel that the new act will reduce speeding and prevent driving without license as the act sterner than the previous one of 1983.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), there are more than 1.7 million illegal drivers currently operating in the country. According to the new act, such a driver may be sentenced to six months in jail or penalty of Tk 25,000 or both.
Chairman of the organisation advocating road safety Nirapad Sarak Chai, Ilias Kanchan, told Prothom Alo, “The maximum punishment has been reduced from 10 years to five years in the face of protests by the transport workers. And they are creating creating trouble for the commuters in the name of protest.”
“The government made promises to enforce the act properly in their election manifesto. We demand the act be effective as soon as possible,” he added.
*The report, originally appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat.