A much-hyped transport law, the Road Transport Act (RTA), passed in parliament amid a massive student movement, sees today its third anniversary passing with its enforcement well put on the backburner for certain roadblocks.
Sources in the sector attribute the inordinate delay in putting the law in practice to discipline road transport to a pack of amendments brought under duress shortly after it had taken effect.
The new act provides for various strict punishments for traffic-rule violations in order to bring discipline in the streets. With its execution virtually put in back gear, road accidents and casualties have doubled since 2018.
Bangladesh Police data show that countrywide number of accidents almost doubled to 4,147 in 2019 from 2,609 in 2018, taking lives of 4,138 people as against 2,635.
The number of accidents in 2020 was also recorded high at 4,198 with the death toll counting 3,918. In the current year, deaths on record are 2,673 in 2,844 road accidents till June 2021.
But the Passenger Welfare Association recorded the number of deaths in 2020, when transport movement had been restricted for several months due to lockdown to check spread of coronavirus, much higher at 6,686 in 4891 accidents. During the lockdown even, 323 people were killed in road accidents.
Parliament enacted the RTA on September 18, 2018 following countrywide student demonstrations for more than a month after a recklessly-driven private bus ran over two students standing beside a road in Airport Road area near Radisson Hotel on July 30.
According to sources, after the RTA 2018 was made effective on November 01, 2019, some 29 amendments were placed by a three-minister committee for facing problems in its execution. Also in absence of road-transport rules, many offences could not be defined.
The committee with Home, Law and Rail Ministers was formed on February 17, 2019 to recommend means of execution of the law. But, the committee recommended a slew of 29 amendments to 126 sections of the act in the middle of last year after talking to stakeholders, including transport owners and workers.
Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary Nazrul Islam said holding discussion and taking comments from all concerned on the recommendations, amendments to the act would be sent to the cabinet committee next Sunday for comments.
However, sources said, it is unlikely to place the RTA (amendment) in parliament soon as several months will still be required to give those final shapes.
"If the cabinet committee okays the amendment, it would then be sent to the law ministry for vetting and then to the cabinet for approval. If any new change in the amendment is proposed, it would then take more time," said a source engaged in this enervating process of bringing a most wayward sector under the bounds of disciplining law.
The RTA, before enactment in Parliament in 2018, had been shelved in the law ministry for years until the students fanned out in movement for road safety and up-to-date transport system.
Though the act was formulated after prolonged consultations with stakeholders at various levels and scrutinizing by committees at different times, the law ministry also formed a committee when it was sent for vetting and it got stalled for reasons not known.
The secretary said the process of execution might be faster if the coronavirus- pandemic situation had not arisen. But, he hastened to add, execution is dependent on other agencies than the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges (MoRTB) and that environment is also necessary to create.
He, however, told the FE while talking at his office that all concerned agreed on the proposed amendments as those were necessary to match with the existing laws as well as giving space for street and transport users for a lack of road-or transport-infrastructure facilities.
"We have tried to get all concerned opinions on the proposed amendment through meetings in an effort to make those acceptable to all after the minister- level committee recommended the amendments. But basic principles of the RTA were not compromised," the official said, confirming keeping the provision of non-bailable offence against transport workers for a fatal road accident.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges took the initiative for a review of the RTA 2018 shortly after its effectiveness in the face of protest and pressure from road-transport owners and workers.
They opposed tooth and nail mainly the provision of non-bailable offence for death casualty in road accident, increase in punishment and fines on various offences from the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983. The law-enforcing agencies also faced problem in its full enforcement for a lack of leveraging rules.
Besides, provision of fines against illegal parking, crossing roads by jaywalkers from Tk 5,000 to Tk 10,000 also faced criticism when the government failed to provide spaces for legal parking and zebra crossing or footover-bridge facilities to the street users.
The demands of transport owners and workers have also been considered by proposing the lowering of the educational qualifications of drivers due to huge gap between drivers and transports. Drivers of three-wheelers have been given scope to get licences with class-five background while class eight has been kept for other public-transport drivers.
However, of the 29 amendments of 126 sections, supervisors or helpers of transports have also been excused from the offence of killing in the case of a road accident as they do not drive.
"Ultimately, the Act has been put into inordinate delay," says a source, adding that there is no effort taken to formulate the rule that is supposed to elaborate on various sections of the RTA to remove confusion of any section.
When asked about the consequences of the delays in the execution of the RTA, BUET Professor M Shamsul Hoque said good governance could remove political influence on transport sector, so as execution of the act.
He observes political economy gets more importance than executing any law nowadays-and the RTA is no exception.
"We have plenty of acts and laws but none takes the responsibility or risk in execution of them. Road-transport sector is not out of the purview," the transport expert told the FE over the phone
Though the RTA obsoletes the MVO 83 after long 35 years, it replaces the British-old act titled Motor Vehicle Act 1939. The move to formulate new transport act was made in 2010, but its draft was formulated four times for disagreements among different quarters.