The government is apparently more submissive to transport owners and workers than those who use such vehicles and are victim is of reckless driving and risky overtaking along with exceeding the speed limit. Bowing to the demands of transport owners and workers soon after the enforcement of the RTA on 1 November 2019, the government withheld certain provisions.

Even before enforcement of the RTA, the government initiated a review committee led by home minister Asaduzzaman Khan to amend the law and to woo the workers. Two laws – the Digital Security Act (DSA) and the RTA – were assented by the president on 8 October 2018 but the DSA was enforced with immediate effect. However, RTA is facing delays in full enforcement.

Apart from generating of mass awareness through involvement of all stakeholders to stimulate road safety in Bangladesh, the globally accepted 3E approach- education, engineering and enforcement of law – can be a way out

More surprisingly, the RTA is now in the process of amendment, aiming at lessening the gravity of penalty for the wrongdoers of road accidents. According to a report of Prothom Alo on 29 July, the review committee recommended modifying several provisions of the law with a purpose of lessening severity of the penalty. Previously, in line with Section 105, the RTA had a maximum five-year of imprisonment or fine of Tk 500,000 or both for perpetrators of road accidental deaths but the recommended change is likely to reduce fine to Tk 300,000.

Amendment of Section 98 will provide leeway to more recklessness of drivers, conductors or even helpers as the proposal is finalised to delete the word overloading and replacement of the phrase speed limit with speeding, paving the way for vagueness. The other provisions envisaged in the section with three-year of imprisonment or fine of Tk 300,000 or both will remain unchanged against perpetrating drivers, conductors or helpers for accidents owing to exceeding the speed limit, risky overtaking and overloading.

Though, the offences under sections 84, 98 and 105 are non-bailable, the committee with the touch of the rule of laxity has recommended non-bailable crimes as bailable ones raising question of credibility of the RTA. Recommendation is also made to settling disputes under section 98 through mutual compromise. Alteration of the law will extend more immunity and indemnity to the transgressors, despite regular prevalence of accidental deaths and fatal injuries on roads, across the country.

The RTA enforcing body Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA)’s report as of February 2017 reveals 2.9 million registered vehicles in the country with only 1.9 million registered drivers while the rest are the ghost drivers without driving licence or training.

According to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), around 56,987 people were victims of death in 58,208 road accidents in last two decades. Road mishaps kill 18 people on an average in a day and cause national loss of Tk 50 to 70 billion in each year.

As per a report, only 10 per cent of accidents see the ray of justice while 90 percent of them end up in a travesty of justice because of vacation of charges against the accused. So, if the law is amended to please a vested quarter, it will vitiate the justice and the hope of mass people including passengers as to road safety in the country.

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh in several cases has treated some road accident cases under tort jurisprudence imposing harsher monetary compensation to the perpetrators and developed a new height in fostering compensatory justice.

Indeed, anarchy in public transport sector has reached an excruciating new level requiring strict enforcement of the RTA rather than cheap amendment of it. Apart from generating of mass awareness through involvement of all stakeholders to stimulate road safety in Bangladesh, the globally accepted 3E approach- education, engineering and enforcement of law – can be a way out.

Emdadul Haque is Dhaka-based independent human rights researcher and freelance contributor. email: [email protected] and Twitter: @emdadlaw

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