The Road Transport Act 2018 came into effect from Friday 1 November 2019. Under the law, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) operated mobile courts in different places across the country.
In the wake of this sudden surveillance, drivers and transport labors became fearful and a section of them went into work abstention, causing immense sufferings for the general public of the country. The Bangladesh Truck Covered-van Goods Transport Owners Workers Unity Council had also called an indefinite strike across the country, demanding the amendment of the new Road Transport Act, from Wednesday 20 November 2019.
Before and after the law came into effect there have been many negative coverage's on the law. Most of the mainstream media shed light on what will happen if a driver doesn't have a driving license, or maybe he has a forged license, so on so forth. For instance, in the previous law, there was a penalty of 300 taka for over speeding but in the new law it will be 10,000 taka.
It is true that transport workers (drivers, conductors, helpers, etc.) are very badly paid. Also, they don't even have job security. They earn hand to mouth in most cases. Besides, in the public transport system they don't have a permanent job contract. They drive somebody else's vehicle.
And their income system is the higher the number of the trips the more the payment is. This is one of the major reasons the drivers drive recklessly. The faster they can finish the trip they can get the next trip which means more money. This is a survival for the fittest mechanism which is one of the major reason of the anarchy on the streets of the country.
With this new traffic law, their livelihood is at stake. Because given the conditions of the law it is not possible for any driver to drive in this traffic system of Bangladesh without paying any fine under this new law. Because if this current system of earning for the drivers continues like this the drivers will always have the tendency to drive fast and that will lead to road accidents.
After the strike by the Bangladesh Truck Covered-van Goods Transport Owners Workers Unity Council the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) step down from implementing the law. Now the responsible ministers mentioned that the enforcement of the RTA will be tolerable. Even some parts of the law will be amended. After this assurance, the leaders of the transport workers called the strike off. Even though, the strike went on in a few places of the country.
The leaders said that if there is no change in the law, they will call the strike again in June 2020. The leaders of the transport workers blaming the BRTA for the strike because they published leaflets and distributed among the public where 13 penalties for drivers under different clauses of the new law were mentioned. There are also penalties for pedestrians, engineers, and others under the new law. But these were not mentioned in the BRTA leaflets. These leaflets caused fear among drivers.
Besides, there are many positive things in the law for the drivers and transport labors. For instance, the law has a provision for establishing a Financial Assistance Fund and to maintain the fund there will be a trustee board. I think this is revolutionary step for ensure safety of the people who are on the streets traveling every day.
This fund will provide assistance to any affected person or his/her family for the accident that occurred by any vehicle. In addition, the law ensures the right of the transport workers for an appeal to any decision against them. This also helps the transport workers and drivers if they are aggrieved by the law enforcers.
However, these positive sides of the law were not covered in the mainstream media. This has become a problem. Only negative publicity in the media and by the BRTA has created hiccups among the transport sector workers. This is why they went on a countrywide strike. That has created sufferings for the general public for four days straight.
It is important to remember if there is any problem there will be a third party who might take advantage of the ambiguity. Now it is important for the GoB to make sure strategically handle the ambiguity of the law. The responsible ministers have mentioned that the necessary amendment will be brought to the law.
We think before any further change in the law there should be a joint stakeholders' meetings hold by the BBRTA. There is a tendency in the bureaucracy to keep everything closed. Now it is time for the BRTA to hold meetings with different stakeholders and discuss the loopholes of the current law.
Leaders of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation (BRTWF) have urged the government to soften the provision of punishment for the transport workers by amending the newly enacted Road Transport Act. But it should be remembered that only because the transport leaders are on the strike doesn't mean that we should take everything into account what they say. Also, the government should not impose any irrational laws or provisions on them.
Furthermore, there should be provisions of civic education for pedestrians and J-walkers. Not only that, there is a common complain that the law enforcers harass the drivers and transport workers. There has to be an oversight mechanism to observe the activities of the law enforcers towards the drivers and transport workers.
The undue fees to enter in the public vehicle terminals and extortion on the highways are the major impediments for the anarchy in the transport sector in Bangladesh. In addition, the lack of parking spots and bus bays are the major causes of road accidents.
Besides, there are many private infrastructures hampering the passage of the vehicles on the highway which is illegal. Last but not least, the damaged streets and highways cause major impediments and lack of system on the streets is enforcing the drivers to use the wrong routs for driving.
Now it is time for us to act. Only amending or producing new law will not bring an end to the anarchy on the streets of the country. It is us who can bring safety on the streets.
Also, we need to be tolerant of the situation on the streets. We keep blaming the law enforcers and the drivers for the anarchic situation of the streets, but we also cross streets randomly. In this case, proper plans and projects for ensuring road safety are important. Furthermore, the consensus-oriented development of the transport system will bring safety for all of us on the streets.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Comilla University, Bangladesh.
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