Bangladesh's roads and highways are among the worst threats to the lives of the road-users. With the number of automobiles increasing by leaps and bounds, the state of the road traffic remains as chaotic as ever. The deadly road crashes are also showing no sign of abating. Reckless driving resulting in gratuitous road crashes at one point in 2018 triggered mass protests mostly by students demanding a stricter law to ensure safety on the roads and punishing driving in breach of traffic laws. It is perhaps for the first time in any country in the world that witnessed students taking control of the capital city's highways for nearly two weeks. School and college students of Dhaka poured into the city's streets and held demonstrations that included blockades, sit-ins, human chains, controlling road traffic and checking licences of vehicles and other forms of protests demanding safety on the roads. The government finally met the students' demand with the enactment of the Road Transport Act 2018. But vested quarters in the transport sector have created various roadblocks to the enforcement of the law. As expected, things are again back to square one. Following the lockdown months when the country saw history's lowest number of road crashes, the roads have again turned busier from the second half of 2020. The frequency of road tragedies has also increased. In truth, powerful transport sector operators and the union leaders who control transport workers have held the sector hostage. So it is no wonder that in 2020, nearly 5,000 people died from close to 4100 road accidents in Bangladesh. The figure was revealed the other day at the Jatiya Press Club by Nirapad Sarak Chai (We want safe roads), a pro-road safety body headed by a relentless campaigner for road safety and former film actor, Ilias Kanchan. A personal tragedy turned him into a crusader in the cause of road safety. And he is known for his selfless service so far in making people aware of the danger of road accidents, offering orientation courses to transport drivers and workers on road safety and safe driving, doing the hard work of annually publishing findings by his organisation on road accidents and the deaths, injuries and other damage caused to the victims. Also, from time to time he brings the issues before the stakeholders and policymakers concerned in the government. In recognition of his unyielding faith in the cause, the government has declared October 22 National Road Safety Day. It is worthwhile to note that he lost his first wife on the same date in road accident in 1993.
But it appears, in spite of his dedication for the cause of road safety, there are some people inhabiting the corridors of power, who do not see eye to eye with him. Mention may be made here of the media reports that Ilias Kanchan has been engaged in a war of words with Shajahan Khan, a lawmaker, former Shipping Minister and a powerful actor in the transport sector. He is learnt to have threatened Ilias Kanchan with boycott. This is unfortunate.
For it may send a wrong message to the transport workers. This is undesirable. We hope they know better than to take the matter to its bitter end.