PUBLIC transports continue to take lives as government efforts to discipline the transport sector have proved futile. The absence of an effective mechanism to make transport owners liable for accidents and mete out justice to drivers for reckless driving is through to have resulted in the chaos. The court has also ordered the government as well as transport companies to pay damages to victims of roads and waterway accidents. In 2017, the High Court upheld the order of the Dhaka joint district judge’s court for compensation to victims of the MV Nasrin which sank in 2003 with about 500 passengers on board. In another recent order, the High Court has asked Swajan Paribahan and the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority to pay the family of Rajib Hossain, who died in a road accident. In 2016, the apex court asked the Bangladesh Beverage Industries Ltd to pay the family of journalist Mozammel Hossain, who died when a company vehicle ran over him. None of the compensation orders has been executed. The government and transport owners appear to be using legal bureaucracy to avoid paying the compensation.
For a number of reasons, passengers’ welfare associations and road safety experts have been harping on the point of legal liability and compensation issues. Firstly, it is public knowledge now that owners out of profiteering motives often run unfit vehicles or vessels. Secondly, legal experts have for long argued that implementation of this proposition will in turn improve passenger safety as owners and insurers will, in their own interest, be motivated to support driver’s training, more rigorous protocol for vehicle fitness. However, in the cases of death on roads or waterways, there are no systematic ways to make compensation claims. The cases mentioned above are results of public interest litigations or rules that court issued suo moto in accident death that could garner media attention. The Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983 had a provision for the formation of a motor accident claims tribunal to provide for a speedy system which victims could use not only against negligent drivers but also vehicle owners and insurers but the Road Transport Act 2018, which replaced the ordinance, has summarily replaced the victim’s right to file case against vehicle owners with the right to apply for ‘financial aid’ from a rather charitably termed financial aid fund. Legal experts say that the funds, as laid out in the law, are given out of kindness while compensations are realised through legal procedures. Whatever limited provision the Road Transport Act has is still on paper as the act has not been set into force. And there is no clear guideline for compensation claims for victims of waterway accidents.
The government must, therefore, take early steps to execute court orders for compensations to victims and it must consider working out a clear mechanism and guidelines for making compensation claims.
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