Students’ demand for safe roads goes unheeded

Students demonstrate in Shatinagar and Kakrail in Dhaka on Thursday safe road and justice for Notre Dame College student Naim Hasan, who was run over by a garbage truck of Dhaka South City CorporationFile photo

After the death of two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment School and College in Dhaka in July 2018, students from different educational institutions took to the streets protesting against the deaths of fellow students and demanded safe roads.

At different protest rallies, students chanted various slogans including ‘we want safe roads’ and ‘we want justice’. Students took control of traffic management. Even law enforcers were not spared while enforcing with the traffic rules. At the time the authorities said the students opened their eyes. People from various walks of life expected that the traffic mismanagement and road accidents would undergo a sea change.

In the wake of the students' movement demanding safe roads, the government took various decisions including enactment of a law. Many projects have been taken and public money has been spent to ensure safe roads. The measures taken by the relevant government departments and agencies are not implemented properly. The ultimate result is zero. On the flip side, mismanagement and chaos on the roads prevail. Road accidents and deaths have increased further.

Road accidents are happening almost every day. Whenever we have a look at the TV screen or the newspapers, we find deaths from road accidents. Two students of the civil engineering department at the Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET) were killed after a bus ran over them in Chattogram on Monday, 22 April 2024. In recent two major road accidents in Jhalakhati and Faridpur, at least 29 people have been killed.

Although in the face of movement by the students, the government hurriedly enacted the road transport act, the law has not yet been implemented completely. The act still is undergoing changes. Initiative has been taken to relax the provisions for punishment.

A huge amount of money has been spent for the development of road infrastructure, but fitness of vehicles and licences and training of drivers couldn't be ensured while reckless driving and illegal movement of vehicles cannot be stopped

Since 2012, the road transport and bridges ministry has spent Tk 1620 billion in 11 years. Roads have been extended, new bridges and tunnels have been constructed, but the road accidents are not decreasing, rather deaths are increasing. A huge amount of money has been spent for the development of road infrastructure, but fitness of vehicles and licences and training of drivers couldn't be ensured while reckless driving and illegal movement of vehicles cannot be stopped.

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As per government and non-government estimation, deaths in road accidents are increasing every year. According to BRTA, a total of 4138 people died in road accidents in 2019, which increases to 5024 in 2023. Private organisation Road Safety Foundation records 5211 deaths in 2019 and 6524 in 2023.

The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) has been established to restore discipline on the road. NRCS comprises officials of different government agencies, representatives of transport workers, and owners' associations, experts and representatives of the civil society. Road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader is the president of the council. This council formulates policy and implements it to ensure safe roads. This forum is supposed to sit every six months and to review the implementation of previous decisions and to formulate new policy. But most of the decisions taken by this council are not implemented.

NRSC banned the locally made improvised vehicles nasimon, karimon, three-wheelers, auto rickshaws, auto-tempo and all non-motorised vehicles on 22 national roads from 1 August 2015. BRTA, district administration, Bangladesh Police and the Highway Police were given responsibility for implementation. But the decision has not been implemented.

According to a study published in 2017 by the Roads and Highways Department, if an able person dies in a road accident, it causes an economic loss of over Tk 2.4 million. Former director at Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), professor Md Hadiuzzaman made a report on annual loss in road accidents. According to him, an estimated loss worth Tk 380.44 billion was incurred for casualties in road accidents in 2021 as per the government estimation.

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If economic loss and human casualties from road accidents are taken into account, there is no scope of showing negligence by the relevant government agencies in preventing the road accidents. The government agencies including BRTA, traffic department and highway police need to be activated so that unfit vehicles don't ply on the roads. In this regard, the negligence of concerned officials should not go unpunished.

If the government does not intervene immediately to restore discipline on the roads in a bid to prevent road accidents, the situation may exacerbate further. This may become a big issue of movement against the government by the students or any other quarter. This is a wake-up call. The sooner action is taken, the better.

* Rabiul Islam is a journalist at Prothom Alo and he can be reached at [email protected]