Govt backtracks on new road law: experts

Shahin Akhter | Published: 00:02, Nov 22,2019


The government has backtracked from implementing the Road Transport Act 2018 by giving the transport owners and workers more time for fulfilling certain requirements with the assurance that it would consider their demands, observed road safety experts and campaigners.

They used the strategy of calling strike to make the government as well as the common people hostage, they also said.

The government has, indeed, bowed down to the ‘unreasonable’ demands of the transport owners and workers, they added.

The observations came after the leaders of the Bangladesh Truck-Covered Van Goods Transport Owners and Workers Unity Council called off their countrywide strike following a meeting with home minister Asaduzzaman Khan at his Dhanmondi residence in the capital early Thursday.

The unity council went on strike from Wednesday asking the government to suspend the implementation of the new road law and  amend it in accordance with their nine-point demands.

The demands include: making all road accident cases against drivers bailable and a provision of not arresting or harassing owners in road accidents cases, issuing driving licence in a short time with easy conditions, issuing the driving licences for the type of vehicles the applicants drive at the time of application, allowing all modified goods-carrying vehicles to operate.

The other demands are: waiving all fines for allowing vehicles to renew papers and withdrawing all previous cases against goods-carrying transport workers and owners, a realistic law with reasonable fines in relation to the income of the owners and the workers, parking facilities at all metropolitan city corporations, district towns, highways and business spots, an end to harassment by police in the name of checking documents, an integrated system to control overloading, allowing no infrastructure besides the highways, and provision of service lanes for slow-moving vehicles.

After a four-hour meeting with transport sector leaders, Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters that the drivers could drive any vehicle with the existing licence till June 30, 2020 and within this time they would receive appropriate

licences from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority. 

The home minister further said that the transport sector leaders also discussed the issue of running modified vehicles which would be solved within June 30 next year.

Professor Mizanur Rahman, director of the Accident Research Institute under Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, told New Age that if the government backtracked from implementing the law, then the instance would discourage people to follow the law.

‘It is totally unacceptable  that the owners want to run unfit vehicles on the roads. There is no such practice in other countries,’ he said, adding that modified vehicles would cause accidents.

By giving assurance that it would consider these demands the government has backtracked from implementing the law, he continued.

‘You see, the law has been enacted with the consent of transport sector leaders but they called the strike against the law and made the government hostage,’ he noted.

He further observed that what the transport owners and workers were trying to do through their demands was just undoing the efforts to make the roads safe.’ 

AI Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, supernumerary professor at Dhaka University’s department of sociology and chairman of the Road Safety Foundation, told New Age that the government had definitely moved far away from implementing the new law by assuring the transport owners and workers to consider their demands.

‘It’s self-defeating.’ he said, ‘If unfit vehicles are allowed to run on the roads then accidents will take place. Then what is the use of enacting this law?’

He doubted that the strike was a strategy of the transport owners and workers.

‘Everything is happening based on negotiation which will continue and will serve the interest of specific quarters, including workers, but the citizens will suffer,’ he observed.

Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh secretary-general Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury said, ‘The government by deferring the enforcement of the law has bowed down to the transport owners and workers.’

It won’t be simply possible to address the issues concerning the delivery of driving licences and fitness of vehicles by next June 30 in view of the long history of culture of impunity, he commented.

‘If the BRTA has so far issued 20 lakh driving licences then how can it deliver licences to 50 lakh drivers in this period of time?’ he questioned, adding that the same question applied to fixing the problem of some 40 per cent of the motor vehicles that were running without fitness.

BRTA chairman Kamrul Ahsan explained to New Age that the drivers who were driving heavy vehicles like buses and trucks could drive these with light or medium driving licences.

‘We gave them seven-month time to correct their licences,’ he said.

As per the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983, which is still in effect, the professional drivers with light-vehicle driving licences and minimum three-year experience are eligible for medium-vehicle driving licences and the professional drivers with medium-vehicle driving licences and minimum three-year experience can apply for heavy driving licences.

About the demand for waiving all fines for renewing papers of vehicles, he said that it would be considered by road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader.

‘The transport sector leaders will apply to us for waiving the fines and after processing the request we will send it to the Finance Division,’ Kamrul Ahsan said, adding, ‘We will consider the modification of vehicles with a lenient view but these vehicles have to be corrected within June 30, 2020.’ 

Asaduzzaman Khan said that they would send their recommendations to the road transport ministry on the objections to the new law after discussing with the transport leaders who demanded amendment of the new law.

He also said that the authorities could not fix parking spaces and truck bays and restrooms for drivers on highways till now.

The road transport minister would be informed of all these inconsistencies along with recommendations, he added.

Replying to a question he said, ‘We are not bowing down to anyone. The law will not be amended.’

The new road transport law came into effect on November 1 more than 13 months after it was passed in the Jatiya Sangsad in September 2018 but road transport and bridges minister twice deferred enforcement of the law for making people aware about it.

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