Student protest against road anarchy  

Nilratan Halder     | Published: August 02, 2018 22:24:00

Dhaka city has been in turmoil for consecutive five days. For the last few days, the capital virtually came to a standstill. Students, those of colleges in particular, took over the city roads. They demand road safety, protesting the continued traffic anarchy claiming lives with impunity. The majority of office-goers and others could not attend their workplaces on Wednesday and if they could, it was not on time. A minister who happens to be the top boss of the transport workers' association only added fuel to the fire by his mindless remark and inappropriate attitude. His statement concerning the reaction of the public in Maharashtra to the death of 33 students and that of the public here to the death of two students and injury to nine of their classmates of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College caused outrage. Also the way he was smiling at the time of making such a comment undermined the seriousness of the incident. One could not be more cruel and insensitive at a time like this.

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that it was not an accident at all. True, accident may happen for various reasons. But it was no accident. Two drivers were competing with each other for picking up passengers from the flyovers' slope-end near the Radisson Hotel. When one beat the other the beaten one, in its frantic bid to outmanoeuvre the one in front skirted around it. By doing so it went off the road and ploughed into the group of students gathered there just against the boundary wall of the army medical college.

The saga of such accidents has been continuing ever since the severance of a college student's hand in between two buses pressing against each other causing his death ultimately. Commuters in the city and on the country's roads and highways feel threatened now with similar fate on account of frequent recurrence of such incidents. There is a growing sense that the issue of road safety has been grossly compromised. What is more frustrating is that there is no remedy to this anarchy resorted to by transport operators. The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and the ministry concerned are not unduly perturbed either. A kind of stoic resignation to this killing spree, instead of a vigorous campaign against it, seems to have pervaded public psyche.     

It is right at such a point of helplessness and frustration, the latest killing of two students and injury to nine others took place. When the grown-ups accepted such killing on the roads of the capital as a fait accompli, the young people who are yet to get over the teenage stage came to the street to shake the conscience of the public. They have got across the message that thus far and no further. Such mindless killing is unacceptable. Transport workers have enjoyed too much liberty and it needs to be curbed. They needed to act and have acted the way they know the issue will receive attention from the government.

The collective strength of the young people has forced an undeclared transport shut-down on the city streets. True, people are suffering and loss of work hours in economic terms will prove colossal. In a city where tailbacks cause this on a regular basis, this extra loss is worth suffering in order to bring about discipline on city roads and other roads and highways in the country. The transport sector treats life disdainfully. But this service could be passenger-friendly and more caring.

Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan is known for pampering the transport workers and he has stoked the anger of the agitating student in the city. Even the apology he sought later on for his outrageous statement was not enough to appease the students looking for an end to the anarchy in the transport sector and the excesses by the its workers. Only a few days ago, the driver, supervisor and helper of a bus belonging to a leading company threw an injured student of the North South University into a canal to his death. Some of them have to their credit, criminal acts of gang-raping and killing women and girls on moving buses.

All this is a testament that the authorities have not felt the need to rein in the wayward among the transport workers. If unqualified and unskilled people are recruited and illegal licences are issued or drivers without licences and training allowed to drive vehicles and the men in uniform turn a blind eye to all kinds of irregularities on roads in exchange for unearned money and illegal tolls collected from them, transport workers feel encouraged to flout laws and rules. Also, the records of awarding punishment for avoidable road accidents compared to the high incidence of those do not act as a deterrent.

The authorities are not taking such issues seriously. Even the spontaneous and explosive burst of protests from the young learners does not seem to have awakened them to the unpalatable reality. In fact, it was waiting to happen, given the mindless indifference to an issue that threatens everyone's life -- even the reckless driver's. The student agitation should not be taken by its face value; for it has the potential to engulf and affect other non-related areas. Unless addressed promptly and carefully, it may go well beyond control.

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