• Saturday, Dec 14, 2019
  • Last Update : 04:37 am

Bangladesh suffers as transport strike over new traffic law spreads

  • Published at 12:40 am November 20th, 2019
traffic police-road-brta
Photo: MEHEDI HASAN/DHAKA TRIBUNE

Nationwide public transport strike affects mobility

Calling a wildcat indefinite strike, a section of transport owners and workers across the country has started to put more pressure on the government to amend the newly enforced Road Transport Act.

The strike called by the Bangladesh Truck-Covered-van Goods Transport Owner-Worker Unity Council goes in force from this morning, with owners and workers in over 20 districts already abstaining from operating buses over the past two days.

Meanwhile, less number of public transports operated in some cities including Dhaka on Tuesday without any announcement from the owners, leaving the commuters suffering.

Amid the situation, seven mobile courts of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) filed 79 cases and fined Tk1.19 lakh under the new act in the capital throughout the day.

“We will continue this operation despite the strike,” BRTA Chairman Kamrul Ahsan told Dhaka Tribune.

The truck and goods transport owners announced the strike and nine-point charter of demands from a press briefing in the capital’s Tejgaon Truck Terminal earlier in the day.

The council’s Convener Rustam Ali Khan, who is also the general secretary of Bangladesh Truck-Covered-Van Owners Association, told Dhaka Tribune that the government should postpone the new law by issuing an executive order and then they should take steps to amend it so that everyone’s interest was protected.

Asked why the owners took the decision, he said: “There is a huge crisis of skilled drivers with valid driving licences. More than 50% drivers have no licences against five million registered vehicles.

Executive magistrate conducts a mobile court drive in Dhaka on November 19, 2019 | Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune“As the punishment is high in the new law, they do not want to sit behind the steering.”

He argued that a driver usually earns around Tk20,000-25,000 per month. “But new law has fines for unlicensed drivers more than that income. That’s why the drivers are not agreeing to drive and owners do not want to operate transports.”

Tajul Islam, member secretary of the council, added: “Not only the fines, drivers are als afraid of the jail terms.”

“There is no other solution to this situation, but to amend the law and reduce penalties,” he stressed.

Even though the goods-laden transport strike was scheduled to begin on Wednesday, no goods-laden vehicles left Tejgoan Truck Terminal on Tuesday.

All loading and unloading activities at river and land ports will be affected if the transport owners and workers go through with their strike. The situation will only grow worse if the strike continues, said people concerned.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal held a meeting with the transport owners and workers last night. But no solution came from it.

The minister is scheduled to sit with them again on Wednesday.

Penalties too harsh?

The owners and workers consider the provisions of the new law harsher — specially the provision of maximum five-year jail term for any death or serious injuries caused by reckless or negligent driving and death penalty for intentional murder by driving.

“We want transport owner or workers’ representatives in the committee investigating any fatal accident,” said Tajul Islam.

On these demands, BRTA Chairman Kamrul said: “The objective of implementing the new law is not to punish drivers or owners. We want to create an environment where everybody will abide by the law.”

“We suggested the mobile courts to fine lowest amount in line with the law, but it is not possible to put the law on hold now for amendment,” he added.

He continued: “We do not want to create any panic over implementation of the new law, and transport owners and workers had promised us several times to assist the government to enforce it.

“But now some groups have gone on strike, which is just a stray incident. However, we are checking the issues of discontents over the law.”

The BRTA chairman on Tuesday also held a meeting with a number of transport leaders at the authority’s Mirpur office. However, no representative from the Goods Transport Owner-Worker Unity Council attended.

No solution from this meeting came either.

Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation Secretary Osman Ali said: “The drivers and owners are afraid as mobile courts slapped high fines on the first day the new law was enforced.”

Low number of buses on Dhaka streets

Movement of public transports was less than usual on Dhaka’s roads on Tuesday, apparently due to mobile court operations started by BRTA from Monday.

A huge number of vehicles without fitness certificates and drivers without licences did not operate in a bid to avoid getting fined.

“I caught a bus after waiting an hour. Not so many buses on streets today,” said Akram Hossain, a banker.

According to BRTA data, 5,407 buses are registered to operate on 168 routes across the capital, and less than 4,000 of those are currently operational.

But most owners tend to cancel trips to avoid fines when mobile courts operate.

The Road Transport Act was supposed to be implemented on November 1. But Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader halted it full execution in an attempt to build awareness about the new law as huge amounts of fines are included in it.

Public transport strike continues

Meanwhile, protesting the Road Transport Act, bus and truck drivers in Khulna, Narail, Jhenaidah, Meherpur, Kushtia and Chuadanga districts on Tuesday continued their strike for the second day.

Taking cue from them, transport workers in at least 20 other districts also went on indefinite strike on Tuesday, declaring to stay off the roads until some sections of the new law were amended.

People in Barisal, Chapainawabganj, Tangail, Pirojpur, Satkhira, Naogaon, Chuadanga, Khulna and Jhenaidah severely suffered in absence of inter and intra-district buses.

Rows of stand still buses at Gabtoli bus terminal in Dhaka on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 | Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka TribunedaSatkhira Bus Workers’ Union General Secretary Zahidur Rahman said: “No worker wants to operate buses until the new law is amended.”

He also said that the central workers federation would place their demands to the government on November 21 and 22, after exchanging views with general workers.

Our local correspondents reported that commuters had to take small and locally-built unsafe vehicles to travel long distances.

Barisal Bus Workers Union General Secretary Jahangir Hossain said they did not operate only because of the new law.

Mymensingh, Madaripur, Kushtia, Jessore and Jhalakathi also saw transport workers go on strike on Tuesday, causing immense suffering for the passengers.

In Pabna, however, some workers went on strike while another portion operated their vehicles.

Only local buses were seen operating in Magura over the past two days.

Workers also blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh Highway for over two hours at Mawna intersection in Gazipur’s Sreepur upazila, demanding cancellation of the new law.

Meanwhile, Hili Land Port in Dinajpur went through the strike for the fourth consecutive day, barring the imported goods from India from going across the country.

All inter-division and internal route buses, however, ran normally in Bagerhat, except for Benapole and the northern part of the country.

Our district correspondents Hedait Hossain Molla, Abdullah Al Noman, Asaduzzaman Sarder, Arif Mostafa, Emrose Khandaker, Raihanul Islam Akand, Khondaker Md Abdur Rouf, Jahanul Karim Shimul, Mehedi Hasan, Mazharul Haque Nipu, Kudrote Khuda Sobuj, Nayan Khandaker, SM Rezaul Karim, Halim Al Raji, Tauhid Zaman and Anwar Hossain contributed to this report