It has been one year since the students spontaneously took to the streets, demonstrating for safe roads. Yet we stand shocked at the prevailing situation. None of the commitments made by the authorities have been fulfilled.
Drivers are driving as recklessly as before. The vehicles owners have failed to keep their transport workers under control. There has been no tangible change in the performance of the traffic police. And the pedestrians remain as lacking in awareness as they were before. They prefer to jaywalk than use the overhead pedestrian bridges to cross the roads.
It is the government that must take responsibility for the failure in road management. The political leadership must take responsibility. It is not just a matter of administrative failure, it is also a lack of political commitment. A certain ‘transport mogul’ is seen to be responsible for this predicament and he still rules the roads. The protest following two students being hit and killed by a bus on Airport Road, was sparked off by his snide reaction to the incident. He has not been included in the cabinet this time, but he was emerged with a new avatar in the transport sector.
The people’s misgivings haven’t been unfounded. On 15 February this year, a 15-member committee was formed to look into road safety and discipline. This ruler of the roads heads the committee. The people have no illusions and have no confidence in this committee at all.
The authorities must realise that mega investment in infrastructure does not ensure road safety. The Airport Road, with all its dazzling lights and fancy features, is an example. Over the past decade, Tk 500 billion has been spent on Dhaka’s road and transport sector, yet the most road accidents occur in Dhaka.
According to official records, in 2017 alone, of the 276 persons killed in road accidents in Dhaka city, 46 were killed on the Airport Road. Of the 297 persons killed on the roads over the past year, around 38 per cent were pedestrians. Over the past four years, one person was killed per week on Airport Road. But the hard fact remains that the authorities have taken no effective measures to prevent these deaths.
In Dhaka city, during the safe road movement, 99 persons were detained in 60 cases, among which 52 still have to appear in court. Yet those who donned helmets and attacked them, remain free and untouched. On the first anniversary of the safe road movement, we appeal to the authorities to drop the cases filed against the students at the time and to halt this harassment.