Ten months since the new road transport act was passed, the government is already taking steps to relax its clauses in the interests of the transport owners and workers. The law had been hurriedly enacted following protests against two students being killed by a bus in the capital city last year. The families of the road accident victims are yet to receive justice.
The road transport act, in sections 98 and 105, has provision for punitive measures in the case of deaths caused by road accidents. In section 105, the maximum penalty for the driver in such a case is five years imprisonment, in accordance to the penal code. The section also has provision for a Tk 500,000 fine which can be in addition to the prison sentence.
Section 98 provides a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment and such a case will be tried under the Motor Vehicles Act. A fine of Tk 300,000 can be imposed under this section which can be in addition to the three-year sentence. The court may hand over the fine in full or in part to the injured parties in the case. The punishment under these two sections is non-bailable.
The transport owners and workers associations have demanded that the sentences and fines under these sections be relaxed. They have even demanded that the non-bailable clauses be made bailable. The government is now in the process of changing the law accordingly.
At the road safety council meeting held on 16 February this year, a committee comprising three ministers was formed to present their views regarding the practical aspects of the road transport act. Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan is the head of the committee, with the other two members being law minister Anisul Huq and railway minister Nurul Islam. The committee held a few unofficial meetings, followed by two meetings with the leaders of the transport owner and worker associations.
At the last meeting held on 12 June, the transport owners and workers called for a relaxation of the punishment provided in the act. Executive president of the transport workers federation and former shipping minister Shahjahan Khan demanded that the sentences provided in sections 98 and 105 be lessened and that the non-bailable cases be made bailable.
Under the new law, a driver must have education up till at least class eight. Anyone with a fake licence can be sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine up to Tk 500,000. Shahjahan Khan called for the educational qualification requirement to be dropped and for the fine for fake licences to be lessened. The transport sector leaders put forward demands for changes in several others clauses as well.
It was decided at the meeting that the road transport ministry would study the similar laws in India, Malaysia and Singapore give its opinion based on this. The ministry was also asked to break up the clauses of section 98 and place these within the other sections of the act.
The ministry is reportedly working on how to make certain amendments to the act in keeping with the demands of the transport owner and workers associations. They will propose that section 98 be placed in two separate sections, with the punishment being lessened. The ministry will not directly make any proposal to lessen the sentence in section 98 from five to three years, but will propose that the offence be made bailable.
Law minister Anisul Huq told Prothom Alo that the work of the committee comprising three ministers is nearing completion. They will finalise their recommendations after one more meeting. He said that the owners and the workers of the transport sector had the right to make any demand, but only justified demands would be taken into consideration.
Sources in the road transport ministry said that the transport sector is being entirely controlled by ruling party leaders. Shahjahan Khan had monopolised leadership of the transport workers. While Jatiya Party secretary general Mashiur Rahman is the president of the transport owners association, it is actually controlled by the association’s general secretary Khandakar Enayet Ullah, the vice president of Awami League’s Dhaka unit. These associations are considered to be strongholds of the government and went out of their way to keep their vehicles on the streets during hartals called by BNP a Jamaat in 20013 and 2015.
Shahjahan Khan, speaking to Prothom Alo about changes to be made in the law, said, it is not justified to make the accident cases non-bailable. He said they have made specific demands regarding other unjustified provisions, too. It is now up to the three-minister committee to take the final decision.
Pressure for owners and workers from before
In face of the student movement for safe roads, the government on 19 September last year hurriedly passed the new road transport act. Then on 28 October last year, the transport owners and workers associations called for a nationwide transport strike, protesting against the new law. The transport workers, during the 48 hour strike, assaulted private vehicle drivers and passengers. They smeared the faces of drivers and passengers with blackened engine oil. So even though the law was passed 10 months ago, it has not gone into effect.
Vice chairman of the Road Safety Foundation and Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua told Prothom Alo, it is an insult to those who were killed in road accidents, to the protesters and to those who were jailed for their protests, that the act is being amended even before it has come into effect.
He also said that the law is necessary. At the same time, the anarchy in the transport sector, the faulty roads, the lack of safety for the transport drivers, must also be addressed.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.