All roads need to be free of hazards  

Published: August 19, 2018 22:22:34 | Updated: August 20, 2018 11:07:36


The recent directive of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) to the deputy commissioners is commensurate with the murky developments seen lately in the road transport sector. In the note, the BRTA asks the district administrators to enhance the mobile court drives in their respected regions. Earlier, the Ministry of Public Administration recommended assigning eight more executive magistrates to BRTA. They will be posted to the authority's offices in Dhaka and Chittagong, in addition to the magistrates running three mobile courts in the capital and, occasionally, in the port city. The posting of eight more magistrates is set to witness a significant increase in the mobile court operations in the two metropolises. Given the daunting volume of traffic law enforcement to be carried out at present, the additional magisterial strength may seem inadequate. Compared to it, the traffic law enforcement situation at district level is understood. The BRTA is said to be hamstrung by shortage of manpower and other drawbacks. The office is already hard put to carry out its long assigned jobs.

Positive results of an extension of its jurisdiction without equipping it adequately may remain elusive. Moreover, the inclusion of the district administration in the list of respondents brings into focus a new zone, which remains largely unfocused and less discussed. Reality speaks otherwise. In the overviews of the anarchic situation prevailing in the country's roads and road transport sectors, the district towns can in no way be underrated. In all respects, they warrant similar attention as that given to the big cities. But apart from some common maladies found in traffic movement in the metropolises and smaller cities, the district headquarters remain afflicted by some unique features. The episode starts with road condition. Beside the major highways, most of the roads passing through district and upazila towns and suburbs are in a dilapidated state. In the vast rural expanse, worn-out and sloppily constructed bridges are held equally responsible for accidents. Roads and bridges are the two vital areas, the proper building and maintenance of which can largely ensure a safe traffic movement. The fact assumes a critical importance in the areas outside the big cities. Unfit vehicles coupled with reckless drivers aggravate the situation. Inept drivers and those without licence operating buses and other vehicles are a common spectacle in the district and upazilas. The roads in the metropolitan cities, Dhaka in particular, continue to get smeared with the blood and mangled flesh of the dead and injured passengers. Those in the regional towns do not lag far behind. Thanks to the big city-specific mass media, many of these news reports remain outside national focus. Lots of the smaller towns suffer from a dearth of traffic police personnel. The presence of the authority of BRTA is conspicuous by its blatant absence.         

The crux of the matter lies elsewhere, and it is unique. In public perception, road and transport-related mishaps are chiefly urban menaces. That alongside the country's cities, roads in the rural and semi-urban areas remain equally vulnerable to accidents do not occur to people in general. The city-centric news media outlets and their regular coverage apparently play a major role in these involuntary shifts in focus. Rural concrete roads filled with automobiles were rare views in the past. So were scenes in the small towns blighted by road accidents. Villages in premier locations once would feel fortunate to have the 'district board' motor-worthy roads on their fringes. The rural Bangladesh has come a long way from this state. In 2018, scores of both narrow and broad roads pierce through the Bangladesh villages. Some outlying areas have reasons to take pride in the national and regional highways going past them.

The roads and the ever thickening rush of traffic have prompted noticeable changes in the village-based economy. Coming to the flipside, these essentially urban communication modes one day opened the big cities' Pandora's Box. And eventually, after joining the bandwagon of the metropolises the remote areas also opened theirs. Nowadays, in an uncannily similar way the district and upazila headquarters are becoming used to witnessing regular major road accidents. In the larger cities and towns, these accidents have emerged as almost routine occurrences. As could be seen in the capital Dhaka, Chattogram and the other metropolises, the district headquarters of the country are fast being made to bear the brunt of rash urbanisation. Nowhere are the ills more visible than in the roads and traffic sector. The overall spectacle comes to the fore with all its dread during the long Eid holidays. It is during the two Eids when hundreds and thousands of city-based people travel to their ancestral village homes. A vast segment of these village-bound people undertake hazardous travels by bus and other modes of road transport. But the blight of fatal road accidents continues to haunt the nation round the year.

Apart from the densely populated metropolises, the afflicted smaller cities include Sylhet, Comilla, Tangail, Rangpur and a number of premier upazila centres. Deaths and injuries caused by reckless driving, collision between speeding vehicles, jaywalking etc are now day-to-day occurrences in these towns. The disconcerting reality being shaped in a vast swathe outside Dhaka --- in the main, had been set to remain out of the public view. The recent countrywide teenage students' outbursts over the demand for safe roads unveiled an underbelly of the whole country's road situation. The spontaneous participation of school and college students in the protest demonstrations exposed many stark realities that plagued the country's roads. The upsurge was generally viewed as an inevitable consequence of the youths' reaching the tether's end; but it also brought out some bitter truths the elders swept underneath.

Of all things, the youth protest laid bare the abject deterioration of the roads of the whole country. After an exposure like this, there were few scopes for those in authority to pretend ignorance. In order to ensure that the country is tolerably free of anarchic roads, a sound traffic network has to be in place. In such an atmosphere, all regions deserve similar treatment.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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