People suffered throughout Monday as transport workers observed wildcat strikes in at least 11 districts in Khulna and Rajshahi regions as the government began mobile court operations under the Road Transport Act 2018.
The workers called the indefinite-period strikes protesting at the implementation of the new law with ‘harsher’ penalties especially with provisions of maximum five-year jail for any death or serious injuries caused by reckless or negligent driving and death penalty for intentional murder by driving.
They demanded amendments to the new law that came into effect on November 1 in the face of the long-standing demand for road safety.
Road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader on the day said that they would implement the law against any amount of pressure that might come.
‘I would request them to follow the law in the interest of security and safety on roads and in their own interest,’ he said, adding, ‘I urge them not do anything excessive against the implementation of the law.’
Workers’ leaders however claimed that the workers observed the strikes spontaneously without their instruction.
For the strike all loading and unloading activities at Benapole Land Port were not done on the day affecting businesses.
Meanwhile the executive magistrates of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority on Monday started conducting six mobile courts in Dhaka to enforce the new law.
But the Dhaka Metropolitan Police did not update its logistic capacity for filing cases under the new law till Monday.
The movement of vehicles was less than the normal on the capital’s roads apparently due to mobile court operations.
The much talked-about law came into effect across the country on November 1 more than 13 months after it was passed in the Jatiya Sangsad in September 2018.
The law was enacted in the wake of countrywide student protests after two students of Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College in the capital were killed by a reckless bus in Dhaka on July 29 of that year.
The road transport minister twice deferred enforcement of the law for making people aware about the law and on Sunday he announced that the law came under full implementation.
Earlier on November 7 he said that the rules for the law were expected to be framed within November 14 but the rules were yet to be framed till Monday.
The New Age Correspondent in Jashore reported that since Monday morning transport workers of all 10 districts under the Khulna division called strike for an indefinite period protesting at the implementation of the new law.
Mamunur Rashid Bachchu, president of Jashore Zila Paribahan Sanghtha Sramik Union, told New Age that the transport workers had willingly started work abstention in Jashore, Kushtia, Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Magura, Narail, Jhenaidah, Meherpur and Chuadang since Monday.
However, the strike in Jahsore continued for the second consecutive day on Monday causing miseries to passengers and businesspeople.
The transport workers started their sudden strike on Sunday morning on all inter-district routes, i.e. from Jashore to Khulna, Satkhira, Magura, Benapole, Narail and Chowgachha.
Loading and unloading activities at Benapole Land Port were not carried out on Monday due to the strike, said Benapole Transport Owners’ Association general secretary Azim Uddin Gazi and Benapole Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association joint secretary Mohsin Milon.
Passengers were seen to board on trains at Jashore due to the strike while long-route bus services including the Jashore-Dhaka trips were normal.
Our Khulna correspondent reported that transport workers had stopped bus movement from Khulna metropolitan city to 18 routes, including to Kushtia, Jashore, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Narail, Gopalganj, Barishal, Dhaka and Chattogram for an indefinite period since morning.
Earlier, they had stopped bus movements from Khulna to Paikgachha, Satkhira, Rupsha and Gorai since Sunday.
About seven thousand passengers daily use the Sonadanga bus terminal in Khulna to reach different districts. On Monday they found no buses available at the terminal.
Khulna Motor Sramik Union president Kazi Md Nurul Islam said that the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation would hold a two-day central committee meeting from November 21 where decisions would be taken on movement.
‘Before that, without our call, about 10,000 workers in Khulna have joined the work abstention on their own,’ he added.
The New Age correspondent in Satkhira reported that without any prior announcement transport workers stopped movement of all buses on all routes from Satkhira since morning.
Thousands of passengers, especially women and children, faced untold difficulties to reach their destinations while they boarded improvised vehicles like Nasimon and Karimon and easy bikes at extra fares.
Transport workers alleged that they did not have the capacity to pay fines like Tk 5 lakh.
So they refused to drive the vehicles until the law was amended.
Satkhira District Bus-Minibus Owners Association leader Abu Ahmed said that the owners did not ask the workers to call the strike.
The New Age correspondent in Islamic University reported that for the fourth consecutive day on Monday transport workers had been observing strike in Kushtia.
The strike continued on the Kushtia-Meherpur, Kushtia-Rajbari, Kushtia-Bheramara and Kushtia-Chuadanga routes bringing huge sufferings to the people.
The New Age correspondent in Rajshahi University reported that transport workers on Monday halted bus services from Rajshahi to Naogaon, Chapainawabganj and Natore but not on the long routes.
A group of agitating transport workers started demonstrating at various points of the city protesting against the implementation of the new law and demanding amendments.
Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Osman Ali told New Age that they did not give any instruction to the workers to call the strikes and the workers were doing this spontaneously.
He alleged that the authorities were only discussing the offences with high penalties, which scared off the workers more.
‘Will the drivers drive vehicles with these strict penalties,’ he asked and blamed the authorities and the owners not for giving appointment letters to the workers.
On the first day the law was enforced, executive magistrates of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority filed 88 cases, realised Tk 1,21,900 as fines and seized papers of two vehicles under six mobile courts held at both sides of the Manik Mia Avenue, Kakoli in Banani, Pallabi, Rayerbagh and Diabari in Uttara, said a press release issued by the authority.
AKM Masudur Rahman, director for enforcement of the authority, said that on the first day no one was arrested and added that the mobile courts would continue except on holidays.
Sarah Sadia Tajnin, an executive magistrate of the BRTA working in a mobile court at Manik Mia Avenue, said that they were filing cases mainly against buses without no fare charts, no reserve seats and against drivers driving without proper licences under the new law and the Penal Code 1860.
‘We are realising minimum fines now for making people aware about the law,’ she added.
Because of the mobile courts, the number of city-service buses, CNG-run auto-rickshaws, cars and motorcycles were few on the capital roads till afternoon as the courts closed their activities at 4:00pm.
The people on different routes throughout the day found fewer vehicles with less traffic congestion.
Meanwhile road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader, at a press conference at his office in the capital on Monday, said that the gazette notification was issued on Sunday about enlistment of the new law in the schedules of the Mobile Court Act 2009.
However, this gazette was notified without the transport law’s section 84 and 98 – on modification of vehicles and overloading – into the schedule of mobile court law as these sections were out the purview of the Mobile Court Act, said Road Transport and Highways Division officials.
‘Some people have requested me to defer the time for implementation of the law; but I did not accept that request,’ said the minister and added that at the first stage the law would be implemented at a tolerable level.
He requested all including the students to follow the law.
Obaidul Quader also said that he had talked with the home minister Asaduzzaman and senior police officials so that the police would not take any aggressive move during the implementation of the law.
The framing process of the rules for the law was at the last stage, he added.
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