The Manikganj Additional District and Sessions Court on February 22 sentenced Jamir Hossain, driver of a bus, to life imprisonment as he was found guilty of reckless driving and negligence that led to the deaths of five persons, including noted filmmaker Tareque Masud and media personality Ashfaque Munier Mishuk.
All sections of people, barring road transport workers, hailed the court verdict since awarding life imprisonment in road accident cases is very rare. Most citizens welcomed the verdict with the expectation that from now on bus and truck drivers would exercise caution while operating motor vehicles. Everyone saw the verdict as a deterrent to reckless driving on roads and highways.
However, some people were heard saying that the tough verdict came because at least a couple of victims of Manikganj road tragedy were high profile individuals and the media paid particular attention to the accident. There is no denying that the media highlighted the accident more than usual because the victims were of the same fraternity.
That the people's expectation is misplaced is evident from the accidents taking place almost every day on highways and roads since the pronouncement of the verdict on Manikganj road accident case.
Even on Saturday last, a fifth-year student of Dhaka National Medical College died and her mother was seriously injured when a bus rammed into their auto-rickshaw at around 7 am on North-South Road of old Dhaka. A baby and her mother reportedly died in a road accident in the district of Tangail on the same day. These were reported cases. There could be some more accidents that had gone unreported.
The court verdict against the errant driver has given rise to another unpalatable event. Road transport workers of 10 southern districts have enforced strike for an indefinite period protesting the court verdict against Jamir. The transport workers are considering the verdict unfair and demanding a 'proper trial'.
Whether the government will give in to pressure tactics of the transport workers or not is yet to be seen. But if the past is any guide, it is hard to keep faith in government's stance.
In the past also, the government coming under pressure from the transport workers had amended the law to reduce the maximum jail term for bus drivers found guilty of killing people on the road due to rash driving.
One has to accept the fact that the present-day road accident figures cannot be equivalent to that of 20 or 30 years back since all the three major factors--- population, length of roads and highways and motor vehicles--- have recorded substantial rise. But the fact remains that both the number of accidents and people killed and injured has gone up disproportionately. A government-backed survey carried out recently has found that at least 60 people die from injuries received in road accidents every day across the country. The police or home ministry figure on road accident victims might be small since many accidents remain beyond the police records and their figures do not include the people who succumb to their injuries later.
The situation involving road accidents, frankly speaking, is very much frustrating. None apparently has the clue to solving the problem. The Manikganj court has delivered a landmark verdict. But what is about administrative actions to reduce the number of road accidents? In fact, that is the area where the main problem lies. Lack of action against errant transport owners and workers and deliberate official indulgence to them have pushed the transport sector into an anarchic situation. At times, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) or its parent ministry initiates a few sporadic measures. But none of the two has ever been found serious about enforcing or implementing those.
There was a time when people used to call trucks 'road kings' because of their rash driving and involvement in most of the road accidents. That situation does not exist anymore. These days, passenger buses have become 'killer transports'. A good number of them either get their own passengers killed or perish pedestrians and passengers of some other vehicles by their rash driving.
There are incidents galore where the transport workers have got both administrative and political indulgence. This has led to further deterioration of the situation. Moreover, the transport industry is one of the few sectors where there exists a symbiotic relationship between owners and workers. They patronize each other and flex muscles in close cooperation.
Allegations have it that both the groups are involved in unauthorised toll collection. The main reason for the transport sector to become somewhat anarchic is the patronage it gets from the ruling party. The problem is not regime-specific. The transport workers and owners, too, behave like turncoat politicians as they change their allegiance in line with the change of guards at the centre of power.