A HIGH number of road fatalities during Eid holiday has become endemic. At least 168 people died and 283 became wounded in 149 road accidents across the country around Eid-ul-Fitr in May amidst shutdown, as the Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association says. Journey back home to celebrate the festival with family and friends was equally deadly around Eid-ul-Azha, which fell on August 1. Thirty road accidents took place in 23 districts in five days till Tuesday. Accidents happened despite assurances from the roads, highways and bridges minister that appropriate steps have been taken to make Eid journey safe. The burden of homebound people on the road was lighter this year because of COVID-19 restrictions and people’s fear. The government has, therefore, no other way to cover up its failure in streamlining the transport sector and in effecting changes to make roads safe for people. The government should remember that it is constitutionally obliged to protect lives of its citizens.
For years, road safety during Eid has been a major public concern. In June 2018, immediately after Eid-ul-Fitr, the prime minister issued a set of directives aimed at curbing road accidents. A month after the issuance of the directives, two college students died in an accident that led to a student movement for road safety that became an incident of national and international focus. To deflect global attention and quell the protests, the government enacted the Road Transport Act 2018, but stalled its implementation in the face of opposition from transport sector leaders. On November 1, 2019, the government began a partial implementation of the law with an extended deadline for drivers and transport owners to update driving licences and fitness certificates. And the deadline has now been extended at least twice while drivers and owners have showed little interest in updating their papers. Around 11,000 vehicles, as the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority says, have not renewed their fitness certificate in a decade or more. The number of unlicensed and underage drivers behind the wheel is still high. In this context, students and road safety campaigners’ allegation that the government acts in the interest of transport owners and workers rings true.
The reasons for a high number of road accidents are a public knowledge. Widespread corruption in the transport sector coupled with an undue influence of transport workers and owners on policy-making have turned roads into death traps. The government can no longer continue with its superficial approach and rhetorical commitment to road safety. It must walk the talk and ensure a strict enforcement of the law. People at large must also continue to raise their voice against preventable deaths on the roads to take the government to task.
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