Disciplining Dhaka roads -- a chimera?  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: October 29, 2018 22:12:38

To speak without any veneer of reservation, the road situation in Bangladesh has gone completely haywire. The spectacle which now unfolds in the roads in Dhaka is simply crazy. It's getting worse by the day. After a brief period of tolerable discipline, the capital's roads have reverted again to its anarchic state -- this time with renewed elements of dread. According to many, the state of the roads has only deteriorated in the last two months. It seems a dark Mephistophelian force has taken over a large section of the city's commuting. Or could it be termed a suicidal wish to court physical hazards, including deaths, on the part of the road users and compulsive jaywalkers?

Lots of people have lately been completely fed up with the mindless decline in the overall condition of the Dhaka roads. They may not be blamed if they demand the present road situation in the capital be declared a 'national calamity'. Fastidious people might start rummaging through dictionaries to pick up a more appropriate term to define the situation in Dhaka. The traffic chaos in the capital has not fallen to such a dysfunctional level since the country's independence 47 years ago. Given its inherent and the newly emerging road and traffic maladies that blight the city, with just negligible reforms in place, the July-Aug movement to bring discipline to the roads now seems a fiasco. Any comprehensive transformation of Dhaka's traffic system seems to be a reverie. It also applies to the whole country with its numerous national and regional highways. A terrible insouciance at breaking of traffic rules and laws reigns in the country. Pessimists cannot be blamed if they detect a subconsciously orchestrated tendency to break laws. Many might see in the present road anarchy the ghost of deliberately defying the authorities. But it doesn't require much common sense and scruple to dismiss any such stratagem if it takes root in a few sections of the people. For a nation aspiring to have a place on the list of upper-middle income countries, such traits are sure to end up being a national hara-kiri. In scores of development-related surveys, global think tanks have repeatedly pointed out the menace. As they view it, the disorderly traffic situation stands out among the great stumbling blocks to a country's progress.

Social thinkers look deeper into the problem. Most of them home in on the ever-feared mass hysteria gripping the roads and their users, especially those in the capital.   The cynical segments of society might even like to compare the headlong deterioration in traffic movement with brazen rusticity. After the turbulent days in last July-August with school and college students launching an agitation demanding safe roads and the authorities' assurance to streamline the traffic, the city people had been eagerly waiting for a change. Unfortunately, virtually few noticeable developments materialised. The notoriously law-flouting and incorrigible operators of buses, private cars, motorbikes etc had been found turning more unruly as days passed by. The dismal situation had remained in place like before even during and after the observance of a month-long traffic awareness campaign throughout September. It was, undoubtedly, an ambitious programme launched by Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP). In appraisals after the end of the advocacy programme, traffic experts, civil society members and the stakeholders identified systemic drawbacks and loopholes which had been behind the lackadaisical outcome of the campaign. The most appalling fact which emerged from the visibly tight campaign was noncooperation on the part of both the people at the wheel and the pedestrians. In spite of putting mobile courts into operation, engaging boys and girls scouts and Red Crescent volunteers, besides police on veritable 'battle gear', the chaos continued to rule the roost on roads.

It's true, bus movements and the commuters' travels on them saw improvements to some extent. But the pedestrians, a dominant component of Dhaka roads, had continued to remain unwieldy. They arrogantly stuck to their practice of reckless and hazardous jaywalking in the face of ardent requests and persuasions, fines and reprimands. Now that the DMP's awareness campaign is over, the menace of jaywalking has returned with a renewed menacing strength.

The hazardous race between buses to speed past each other bears no signs of remission. The practice continues to plague the capital's traffic scenario like in the past. The competition goes on like before, jeopardising the safety of the passengers. To the travellers' woes, the bus owners have apparently reneged on their promise to annul the system of contracting their vehicles to the operators. With the system in force, the operators continue to reach stoppages ahead of others in a deadly competition to collect as much passengers as they can. Making a quick buck remains the chief stimulus behind the practice. There are few signs that the contracting of buses will go away any time in the near future. It deserves to occupy a major focus in the government's new measures aimed at bringing discipline to the city roads. With this system gone, Dhaka's traffic movement maladies are expected to be coped with significantly. Lately, the reckless motorcyclists have emerged as another traffic-related scourge in the capital. The number of the two-wheelers continues to rise, so does their collective strength to assert dominance on the roads.

The unabated increase in private cars can be singled out as another contributor to the deterioration in Dhaka's traffic management. The issue warrants prompt and pragmatic handling by the road transport authorities. The Road, Transport and Bridges Minister recently admitted to government failures to bring full discipline to the roads. The act of owning up to the incapability is a welcome gesture. But the admission is not going to take the nation anywhere near a remedy. All-out efforts to streamline the roads, coupled with taking into account the ground realities, ought to go on without pause. Or else, the traffic lawlessness will continue to decline in a diabolic speed.



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