Facts are facts but some are less palatable than others. And so while there may be a quiet sense of mirthless satisfaction that over Tk. 37 million (3.70 crore) has been realised as fines from over a one hundred thousand vehicles for a variety of paper anomalies, it actually leaves more red faces. If this is the outcome of six days of a traffic week one wonders what would the figure be if it were extended. That it has is encouraging news both in terms of a make-up of loss of revenue during the student movement and a scramble to regularise licenses and fitness certificates at the Bangladesh Road Transport Association (BRTA). At last the police are coming down hard.
The other side of the stats are grim reading. Three and a half million vehicles are registered and only 1.5 million licenses are recorded to have been issued. That would suggest two million unlicensed drivers are merrily plying their trade with buses and legunas leading the pack. Fake licenses are no new phenomenon and youngsters with barely semblance of hair over their upper lips have been let loose on Dhaka and other city roads. That in itself calls for some serious questions to be asked of Roads and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader who has time and again promised action against unfit vehicles. The pick-up van running on Bijoynagar had the words 'Namaaz is the key to heaven' duly painted over the rear but it's number plate was missing a 'Ma', almost faded and one of its rear lights was in a state of disrepute. There are more like this except gone into hiding for the time being.
The long lines of license seekers and vehicle fitness provide sources of revenue both for the exchequer and the errant individual and while the Finance Minister will be happy he, too, will be apprehensive over where all this money is coming from.
The school children forced the issue of police filing cases in the first two days and the process has continued. The scouts are now on the road along with girl guides to persuade, exhort and plead with jaywalkers and wrong-side deviants from desisting in what shouldn't be happening. A TV Channel could find only lame excuses when microphones were shoved under the noses of wrong-doers refusing to use foot overbridges and going down the wrong side of the road. Everyone admitted they were wrong and yet….'we're in a hurry'. In their defence there aren't enough underpasses and overbridges and very few zebra crossings that the hopelessly outmanned police can monitor.
The Prime Minister's directive to introduce more CCTV and digital number plates to trace errant vehicles is music to the ears. What even she can't enforce is the habitual callousness with which people jaywalk, setting poor examples to the progeny. Road safety is a combined effort. Infrastructure such as clearly identified bus, leguna and rickshaw stoppages and following those stoppages has to work together.
Gulshan Society has teamed up with Dhaka North in converting some roads into one-way and allowing one-sided parking on others is an experiment that will be eagerly watched out for because it holds great promise. What Gulshan is doing is pulling commercial outlets and restaurants from Gulshan North allowing two bands around Gulshan DIT 2 area to reduce the gridlock and parking dilemma. The noticeable reduction in cars parked on the pavement along Gulshan Avenue is pleasant but the explosion of mobile vendors occupying footpaths again is a headache that has returned. Once again the fault lies not in our stars.
The youngsters have shown the way, albeit in a traffic that was one-tenth of Dhaka's madness but the opportunity replacing unfit and dangerous vehicles and bringing some form of discipline has offered itself. It's one thing to prevail on buses not to outdo each other, it's another to keep traffic moving and quite another to provide space for decent stoppages. Whether we learn or fail our children is another matter of our values.
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