THE police attacks on 10 left parties marching to lay siege to the energy ministry on Wednesday yet again provide a pointer to the government’s increased tendency to constrict space for democratic protests especially against its flawed policies and poor performance. The police fired, as New Age reported on Thursday, shots and teargas shells and used water cannon to disperse the protesters, who tried to break through police barricade towards the secretariat demanding an immediate cancellation of the gas price increase. The Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission apparently to comply with government desire on February 23 increased gas prices by 22 per cent with effect from March. Gas price for household use increased to Tk 750 from Tk 600 for single burners and Tk 800 from Tk 650 for double burners. Moreover, household gas prices would have increased again to Tk 900 for single burners and Tk 950 for double burners from June if the High Court had not already stayed the further increase. There are reasons for worries about this as the price increase may push up the average power generation cost and the average cost of industrial and agricultural production, which may end up adding to the average cost of living.
All this takes place at a time when people and especially those with fixed and low income have been reeling under unabated surge in goods price increase since the incumbents assumed office in 2009. Overall, the left parties have good reasons to protest against the gas price increase decision. It may be pertinent to recall that the government let loose law enforcers in a similar fashion on the same groups when they were enforcing a half-day general strike in Dhaka on February 28. In view of this, there are little reasons for surprise at the government’s resorting to such coercive means to tackle the protests if how the government has handled such protest in the past few years are considered. The government employed not only law enforcement agencies but also hooligans, reported to have ties with the ruling party, to foil even innocuous programmes such as human chain that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had organised on several occasions in the period. Civic groups such as the national committee to protect oil, gas and mineral resources, power and ports have also unconstitutionally been barred by the government from holding protests against government steps that are regarded as detrimental to national interest. It is important to note that while the constitution allows every citizen to hold protests, political and otherwise, against any wrongdoing of the government or any other entity, the law enforcement agencies are constitutionally bound to cooperate in this regard as long as the protest remains peaceful.
The government needs to realise that as the manager of the state its duty is to protect citizens’ constitutional rights and not to curb them. Hence, it immediately needs to make a course correction in dealing with public protests and take action against the law enforcers who attacked Wednesday’s march. Conscious sections of society also need to raise their voice against police atrocities such as the one in question.
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