Widespread mismanagement and corruption has plagued the transport sector. According to the Passengers’ Welfare Association of Bangladesh, at least 339 people died in 277 road accidents across the country during Eid-ul-Fitr holidays. Investigation revealed that the accidents took place as the drivers on the long route were overworked and exhausted. In what follows, the prime minister issued a directive to arrange alternative drivers for long-route buses and ensure recess for drivers every five hours. However, the directives have not so far been implemented. Asked about the lack of inaction in the parliament, the minister concerned, as New Age reported on Wednesday, said that there is severe shortage of skilled drivers. The shortage of driver is a long-standing problem. According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, there were 18 lakh licensed drivers against 27.9 lakh registered vehicles in 2016. As the authorities failed to address the problem, the gap widened over time. Today, there are only 18.7 lakh drivers with valid licences to drive 35 lakh registered vehicles. The minister’s response is a simple iteration of a problem that has already been identified and is an indirect acknowledgement of their failure to arrange for driver’s training.
What is even more disconcerting is that the minister concerned refused to acknowledge that the transport sector is crisis-ridden. In the parliament, he termed the report of the Passengers’ Welfare Association as ‘fabricated.’ When 52 people died in single day on June 23, the minister’s denial is shockingly irresponsible. The Passengers’ Welfare Association blamed reckless driving, run-down and unfit vehicles on the road, the plying of unauthorised three-wheelers, irregularities in issuing driving licences and fitness certificates as the prime reasons behind these accidents. There are many policies and cabinet decisions made to improve road safety; however, in reality, these policy-level decisions exist only on paper. Experts in traffic safety assume that rampant corruption and undue political influence create obstacles to bringing about changes in the traffic safety system. Instead of owning up to the crisis and arranging redress, managers are busy setting asidie the reality. In the context of their denial, the allegation that higher authorities in the sector are themselves involved in transport industry and their alleged conflict of interest allows accidents to take place rings true.
According to the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, at least 2,471 people died in 2,353 road accidents across the country in the past six months. The statistics paint a grim picture of the traffic safety situation and does not leave room for denial. The government, under the circumstances, must take up initiatives on an urgent basis to improve and expand training facilities so that more drivers can be properly trained to meet the demand of drivers.
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