The Financial Express

Road sector anomalies and nonchalance  

Road sector anomalies and nonchalance   

A dustbin lorry, belonging to the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), ran over and killed Naim Hasan, a student of Notre Dame College, on Wednesday last. The vehicle had hit Naim when he was crossing the road in the Gulistan area. A garbage cleaner of the DSCC was driving the lorry instead of the DSCC-appointed driver.

There was a repetition of the tragic incident the next day, Thursday. Kabir Khan, a newspaperman, died on the spot when his motorbike was hit by another dustbin lorry, owned by the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC). Here also, a mechanic other than the regular driver was behind the steering.

If not the second incident, the first one has stirred up students' agitation, like the one witnessed in August 2018. College students across Dhaka city are coming out to the streets every day in support of their six-point demand, including road safety for all and implementation of the new Road Transport Act. The police have arrested both the drivers of the DNCC and the DSCC vehicles involved in the accidents, but the students' agitation is still on. Students are now seen checking documents of vehicles on the streets as they had done in 2018 following the death of two students in an accident on Airport Road. 

Barring students' protest over the death of Naim Hasan, two other developments are now taking place simultaneously. In one development students are staging demonstrations in support of the demand for halving their bus fares.

The second development covers most bus passengers who allege that bus operators are charging more than the fares that the government has fixed following the hike in oil prices. Both the government and the association of bus owners have found the allegations to be true. Executive magistrates, accompanied by representatives of bus owners' associations, have been extracting fines from the errant buses. Yet a section of bus owners are still giving a damn to the government-fixed fare charts and overcharging their passengers.

The protests over bus fares are transient developments. Those would die down within the next few days. But will there be any reduction in the number of road accidents that have been taking place daily across the country because of rash driving? On average, 15 to 20 people die in road accidents across the country every day. Buses and trucks are involved in most of these accidents.

An extreme level of anarchy and chaos is bedevilling the country's transport sector. The situation has worsened in recent years with the government taking a soft approach towards the errant transport owners and workers. Many allege that the political allegiance of a section of bus owners and leaders of transport workers' unions has been the main reason for the government taking a soft stance.

The recent hike in bus fares following an upward revision of fuel oil prices is a case in point. The government had raised the fuel oil price at an average rate of 23 per cent, but it permitted the bus owners to raise fares by 27 per cent. Most people found the hike in bus fare unjustified. There were strong protests from all over.

The shrewd bus owners then took a new move to divert the attention of the aggrieved bus passengers. They started charging more than the fares they had agreed during a discussion with the government. Distracted, the bus passengers are now fixated on accusing bus owners of charging more than 'agreed' bus fares! Happy bus owners are now 'cooperating' with the administration in punishing the buses that are realizing fares above the ones revised upward lately.

The authority, it seems, are not willing to address the irregularities in the transport sector. National parliament passed a new road transport act in the face of opposition from the transporters. But the government has been found shy of implementing many of the provisions that would annoy the transport owners and workers.

Allegations that most bus drivers do not have valid licences and many buses are not worthy of plying the streets have always fallen on deaf ears. Be it the road transport ministry or the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority or the traffic police, every government agency is found to be reluctant to take actions against errant transporters.

Some instances of irregularities are mentioned below.

Hundreds of 'lagunas' operate in Dhaka city covering small distances. They do not have any route permits. Yet they operate and fix fares on their own. The BRTA and the DMP traffic department overlook their presence.

The BRTA does fix fares for all buses barring the ones fitted with air-conditioners. The air-conditioned buses are free to fix their fares. A BRTA director was heard telling a private TV channel recently that his agency only fixes fares for all buses barring the air-conditioned ones. Why is it so? Does any law bar the BRTA from fixing fares for air-conditioned or luxury buses?

Inconsistencies and instances of indifference in the country's transport sector have been aplenty. Over the years, volumes have been said and written, but the relevant government agencies, deliberately or otherwise, have not taken tangible actions to set things right. But enough is enough. It is high time they came out of deep slumber. Otherwise, something bigger might happen soon. The deaths of Naim and Kabir Khan on the streets and the resultant protests by students point to such a possibility.


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