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A CLOSE LOOK

Why does road anarchy not cease to exist?

Nilratan Halder | Published: March 22, 2019 21:03:08


A rally of students at Dhaka University recently demanding road safety — FE Photo

Dhaka City witnessed yet again waves of student protests. This time, it is not school students who spearheaded the agitation but their elders mostly studying in universities. The protesting students took to the streets and occupied crucial road intersections and thus brought the city's traffic and life to a virtual standstill. They did not, however, take upon themselves the responsibility, like the teenage students, to regulate traffic and bring order on city roads at all important city points. Checking drivers' and vehicles' licences and route permits by them was limited to a certain segments of roads and intersections.

Now why are students compelled to take to the streets? It is not their responsibility to teach traffic rules and regulations but given the road anarchy and free rein drivers and helpers of public transports and good-carrying vehicles allowed, it cannot be helped. People of all ages and vocations regularly perish under the wheel but except students, workers of factories like those of garments industry, none are organised enough to mobilise a vigorous protest. As a most advanced and sensitive segment of society, students have always protested against injustice and repression from rulers -colonial, autocrat or otherwise.

In an independent country, however, the issue of human rights figures at the top of the agenda. When people get relentlessly crushed under the wheel for gross negligence or rash driving, the issue no longer can be considered under the purview of accident. An accident is unavoidable when mechanical failures are responsible or something unexpected happens without warning. But in the majority of cases, it is rash driving, carelessness, use of cell phones while driving or putting unlicensed drivers at the steering wheel or operation of vehicles without proper maintenance and check or those unworthy of roads that actually lead to fatal accidents. In short, such accidents are preventable.

However, the transportation sector is lorded over by musclemen or mafia gangs. When stringent actions are taken against erring transport operators, they call strikes and hold the people a hostage. They resort to all kinds of ploys to realise their illegal and outlandish demands. What is even more loathsome is that they receive patronage and support from powerful quarters -sometimes holding important government positions. Thus they become uncontrollable. The situation becomes even worse with the law enforcement agencies and political elements giving in to temptation of enjoying regular booties from the highly profitable transport sector.

Unless this vicious cycle of illegal beneficiaries can be dismantled, discipline will be a mirage to this sector. Pampering the transport associations has gone to the extent where the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority has become a toothless tiger. It fails to implement any order or instructions. For example, there is no accepted fare chart for city buses. The operation of buses as sitting service has no approval but operators continue to do so in the name only. They would extort the extra fare they themselves have fixed but would never operate their vehicles as sitting services.

The authorities turn a blind eye to such anarchy. Contract recruitment of drivers, conductors and helpers makes the matter worse. Under the arrangement, bus operators have to hand over a certain amount to the owners of their vehicles for each trip (from starting point to destination and return) and the remainder of the fare they collect is shared by a driver and his conductor or helper.

This is the reason why buses of the same company get involved in races against each other and often run over passengers either waiting or getting on board or alighting at the bus stops. So the overwhelming need is to streamline operations of buses in a rational and regulated manner. Nothing less will unabatedly cause road tragedies.

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