The Road Transport Bill 2018 has considered the interest of transport owners and workers more than public interest because of a strong syndicate of government officials and transport leaders, activists and experts said.
The bill has ways for transport owners and workers to continue extorting money and gaining political power, they said while talking to New Age on the bill.
They said that as the associations of transport owners and workers had very strong lobbyists in the government, they had the power to keep themselves safe from strict actions.
The cabinet on August 6 approved the bill in the wake of countrywide protests by students of schools and colleges for road safety and justice for two of their fellows killed by a bus that ploughed through a crowd of students and others at Kurmitola in Dhaka on July 29.
The bill proposed five-year jail and fine as the highest punishment for rash and negligent driving that might cause deaths or serious injuries.
The jail term was seven years in the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 and it was reduced to three years in 1985 following protests from transport workers and owners.
Different quarters, including experts and rights activists, have long been demanding that the punishment should be increased to curb the unabated menace of traffic accidents.
Experts at the Accident Research Institute of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology said that buses and minibuses were involved in about 50 per cent road accidents.
In at least 98 per cent of the first information reports on the road accidents, police mentioned reckless driving as the cause, they said.
The bill proposed that the punishment for violation of any traffic rules or signal by pedestrians should increased to jail for three months and/or a fine of Tk 10,000 from the existing jail for one month a fine of Tk 500.
Many city dwellers, including Shamsad Uddin of Kalabagan, said that the government was increasing punishment for pedestrians but favouring transport workers and owners as they were organised.
Jahangirnagar University urban and regional planning professor AKM Abul Kalam said that as most of the bus owners had political affiliation, they knew about initiatives taken by the government instantly and could save themselves from strict penalty
There should be maximum 10-year jail for rash and negligent driving to restrain reckless driving, he Abul Kalam, also Bangladesh Institute of Planners president.
He said that the government uphold interests of all in the bill by analysing it more before enactment by parliament.
The experts and city dwellers said that taking the government to hostage, the transport owners and workers were forcing the government not to toughen punishment for rash and securing their interests by forcing the government not make punishment harsh and negligent driving although bus and minibus driver were much less in number compare to drivers of other vehicles.
According to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority data, of the 35.36 lakh registered motor vehicles only 73,410 are buses and minibuses, as of June 30.
BUET civil engineering professor Md Shamsul Hoque said that the government became hostage to transport owners and workers.
He alleged that the transport owners were doing business in the name of ‘public transport’ which was actually ‘extortion’.
‘Those who earn livelihood from this sector stay in front but who are managing everything behind the screen are the members of this syndicate who are the main beneficiary,’ said Shamsul, also National Road Safety Council member.
The syndicate of ministers, law enforcers, trade unions and extortionists intentionally sustain chaos in the sector for their own interests, he alleged.
The professor said that shipping minister Shajahan Khan, also Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation executive president, and state minister for rural development and cooperatives Mashiur Rahman Ranga, also Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association executive president, were working as lobbyists for the transports workers and owners as they were doing trade union and the government job at the same time.
If all buses in the capital run systemically and orderly and workers came under discipline then how the leaders would get power and extort money and distribute among others including dishonest government officials and who would be their pressure group, he asked.
‘These are created by faulty planning and route permit disorder,’ Shamsul observed.
He urged the government to break the syndicate and solve the problems in the sector addressing root causes.
Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh secretary general Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury alleged that the bill saved mainly interest of bus owners and workers instead of commuters.
Nirapad Sarak Chai chairman Ilias Kanchan alleged that the bill would not bring back order in the chaotic road transport sector.
Transparency International Bangladesh on August 2 demanded removal of Shajahan Khan and Mashiur Rahman Ranga from the cabinet saying that they cannot be ministers as their other roles were in direct conflict with such responsibilities.
A Supreme Court lawyer in a legal notice on the same day asked shipping minister Shajahan Khan to explain under what authority he was holding the post of the federation’s executive president.
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