The new Road Transport Act adopted by parliament came into force on the first day of the current month though it was adopted by national parliament 13 months back.
The relevant authorities have never explained to the people the reasons for the delay in enforcing the law. However, the latter might have guessed a few reasons without waiting for any official explanation.
What, however, has surprised many is that the people engaged in traffic management and the operators of public transports are not aware of the content of the new transport act. Despite the delay in enforcement of the much-talked-about piece of legislation, none has taken the trouble of making the transport operators, traffic police and the members of the public adequately aware of its important provisions.
The lack of knowledge about the new law is forcing the traffic police to refrain from taking legal actions against the violators of traffic rules. Police officials said they kept confined their actions to verbal warnings and motivational campaigns. However, transport operators, in a few cases, had something different to explain. It is not clear how long it would take to educate the traffic policemen about the new transport act.
The delay in enforcement and the lack of awareness about the law seem interlinked. Some people assumed that the law would never be put into effect and hence it will not be necessary to know its details. The failure to draft rules under the new act in 18 months is yet another instance of lack of seriousness on the part of relevant government agency about application of the law.
It is also important to see the reactions of various interest groups--- transport owners and workers, law enforcers and members of the public---following the enforcement of the new transport act which tends to be somewhat tough on errant transport operators and, in some cases, pedestrians.
Naturally, the transport workers are unhappy about the law that is considered to be the outcome of a unique and peaceful movement of school students of Dhaka city last year. Though the law has failed to accommodate many issues raised by students, it is considered a big step forward in disciplining an otherwise complex traffic system. Bus drivers in some places, including Sylhet, have protested the law describing it one-sided.
But the members of the public for whom the law has been enforced are not optimistic enough about any notable change in the situation. According to them, what is important for any law is its proper enforcement. Unless and until a law is honestly enforced, there is no way of deriving any benefit out of it.
Enforcement of laws and rules particularly in transport sector has always been a very difficult job. All concerned did know beforehand that the new transport law would also face strong opposition, overtly, from the transport workers and, covertly, from the transport owners. Transport is one of the few sectors where there is hardly any conflict between owners and workers! The two sides defend staunchly each other's cause. The main casualty of this unholy alliance is traffic discipline.
Two other actors--- the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and the traffic and highway police---do play an important role in ensuring discipline in traffic movement in major cities and highways. The question is: Are these actors duly motivated to ensure proper and sustained enforcement of the law?
The transport minister and the leaders of the bus owners' association are optimistic about getting positive results if there was proper enforcement of the law. The word 'if' does refer to the 'knot' that has been responsible for giving rise to an anarchic situation in the transport sector.
All are unanimous that two other factors---money and politics--- are largely responsible for the current deplorable state of the transport sector. Since money flows in billions in the transport sector, politics could not stay far away. Political elements, thus, made their entry only to make the situation worse.
The government as well as the people can expect results from the new law only if its provisions are duly enforced. For instance, passenger buses, these days, use every place as stoppage and pick up passengers from the middle of the road merrily. The violation of traffic rule has been possible since traffic sergeants hardly punish bus drivers for the offence. They seem to be very lenient. Even they ignore, deliberately or otherwise, such violations.
Here, many would feel tempted to cite the traffic discipline within the limits of Dhaka cantonment. The vehicle that gives a damn to traffic rules on city streets is found extremely cautious while using roads within the cantonment area. This is just because of enforcement of discipline and rules, nothing else. Can we expect this level of enforcement from the relevant agencies? Yes, the situation is different outside. But the people do not see even the minimum efforts to enforce discipline.