Students’ demands lie unimplemented

Shahin Akhter | Updated at 12:15am on August 29, 2018


Buses continue to take and drop passengers in the middle of road amid risk of fatal accident. The photo was taken at Matuail in Dhaka on Tuesday. — Sony Ramany

Most of the demands of students, including a ban on unfit vehicles and drivers without licences and half fare for them, have remained unimplemented even a month after countrywide protests against road sector anarchy shook the country.
The weeklong protests erupted after two Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College students were killed and 12 more injured by reckless driving at Kurmitola in the capital on July 29.
Road safety experts have claimed that the situation remains unchanged and nothing worth naming has been achieved.
Moreover, the authorities have relaxed conditions for being eligible to get driving licences and drive public transports, they lament.
Following the student protests, Dhaka Road Transport Owners’ Association on August 8 had decided to check documents of buses before they would leave terminals but the decision was scrapped within days.
At least 51 people were killed and 138 more injured in road accidents between August 21 and August 25 during the Eid-ul-Azha holidays — all due to glaring disregard for traffic rule.
Amid utter anarchy in the road sector, the students had demanded highest punishment for the bus drivers responsible for killing two of their fellows, withdrawal of the shipping minister’s comments of July 29 and unconditional apology from the minister, establishing footbridges and taking safety measures for safe movement of students, establishing speed breakers in accident prone areas including in front of the schools and colleges, taking all responsibilities of the deceased and injured by the government, compelling the buses to carry students, half fare for the students, not allowing buses without fitness and driving by any unlicensed driver at any place of the country and ban on carrying passengers more than its capacity.
Earlier on August 1, at a press conference, home affairs minister Asaduzzaman Khan had called on the agitating students to return to classrooms from the streets assuring them of meeting their demands.
State minister for local government, rural development and cooperatives Mashiur Rahman Ranga told New Age on Tuesday that they did not discuss with the government yet the students’ demands for making buses available for them and ensuring half fare for them across the country.
‘If a bus has to carry only students after school or college hours, the owner will face losses,’ said Ranga, also executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association.
He said in Pakistan period students would forcefully give half fare in public transport but currently there was no such system.
They were taking actions against unfit vehicles although it caused sufferings to people, he claimed.
On the day of the Kurmitola accident, shipping minister Shajahan Khan almost broke into a giggle as he faced questions from journalists about the fatal accident.
On July 31, he offered apology for smiling over the deaths of the two students that sparked huge street protests and criticism on social media.
The shipping minister, also executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, on Tuesday told New Age that once the Road Transport Bill 2018 would be enacted, the students’ demands would be implemented.
Shajahan Khan claimed that currently road transport and bridges ministry, law enforcing agencies, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and transport owners and workers were working jointly on the demands.
He also claimed that currently the transport leaders were checking documents of vehicles and drivers on roads with the support of law enforcers and observed that the number of drivers should be increased to improve the situation.
Road transport and highways division secretary Md Nazrul Islam also assured that the Road Transport Bill would address the main demands of the students.
According to the division, the stakeholders have been asked to strictly control speed limit of 80 kilometre on highway to check reckless driving and identify spots for footbridges and accident-prone spots.
RTHD additional secretary Shishir Kumar Roy said they did not make any decision about taking students in public transports wherever they would give signals and half fare for students.
Hossain Zillur Rahman, former adviser to a caretaker government and convener of Safe Roads and Transport Alliance, said the Monday’s accident in Chittagong, in which a passenger was pushed down from a moving bus to death, showed clearly that the culture of impunity was still prevailing in the sector.
Some pressure was observed as people were taking licences and checking fitness but at the same time the authorities relaxed the rules for taking driving licences, he said.
‘It can be understood that the government is taking steps only to secure the interests of the owners. Our reality remains stuck there,’ he alleged.
The government was yet to give importance to public transports and ensure logical fare rate for all while the road bill had many gaps, he added.
Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh secretary general Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury lamented, ‘In this sector only discussions take place, but there is no result.’
The road bill would not bring any change in the road sector as it only secured the interests of two influential organisations of transport owners and workers, he commented.