Government becomes flexible to avoid further chaos
Commuters immensely suffered across the country on Wednesday as transport network remain closed after owners and workers of bus, truck and other freight transports joined forces in rejecting the Road Transport Act, which has provisions of stricter punishments.
Bangladesh Truck-Covered-van Goods Transport Owner-Worker Unity Council went on indefinite strike on Wednesday, two days after the bus-truck owners and workers in the southern districts kicked off their one.
The protesters vandalized vehicles, attacked workers willing to operate and blockaded roads in many districts around the country, obstructing transportation of goods imported or meant for export and making the businesses take a hit.
They also barred vehicles transporting essential commodities, at a time when rumours and shortages have driven up the prices of different items.
Maximum intercity or inter-district buses from Dhaka’s terminals did not operate. Movement of city buses was also less than normal.
Road communications between Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Narayanganj, along with a number of districts, were interrupted after protesters blockaded the roads, forcing thousands of people to walk or find other modes of transportation, since the morning.
However, traffic on these roads and highways returned to normal in the afternoon, after police intervened peacefully.
Until the filing of this report at 10pm, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal was in a meeting — for the second time in two days — with the representatives of freight transport owners and workers at his Dhanmondi residence to find a solution to the crisis.
Rustam Ali Khan, convener of Truck-Covered-van Goods Transport Owner-Worker Unity Council, told the Dhaka Tribune, “Whether we will continue or withdraw the strike, that decision will be announced after the meeting with the home minister.”
Although, sources in the council said the strikes might get called off after the meeting because the government higher-ups have hinted at meeting their demands.
Since Monday, the transport owners and workers across the country have made a number of demands, which mainly include flexible implementation of the new traffic law and further discussion to have some of its sections amended.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Auto-Rickshaw Auto-Tempo Transport Workers’ Federation on Wednesday also demanded amendment of the Road Transport Act.
They claimed the law was enacted without taking cognizance of the opinions of transport workers and did not protect their interests.
Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association and Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association have requested the government to delay the full implementation of the new law by a couple of months.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) Chairman Kamrul Ahsan said: “We have directed the mobile court magistrates to be a little lenient while carrying out duties and fine the nominal amounts in line with the law.”
On Wednesday, mobile courts filed only 38 cases and fined Tk35,600, the lowest in the past three days.
Traffic and highway police are yet to start filing cases under the new law, which came into effect on Sunday.
Police have made a chart of fines for violating traffic rules, but it will not be implemented immediately as part of the authorities’ decision to be lenient at the moment.
“For now, we will execute the new act manually, by writing the violators up,” said Joydeb Chawdhry, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Traffic Division.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, headed by former shipping minister Shajahan Khan, will also give their observation over the act’s implementation after a two-day meeting set to begin today.
The goods transport owners and workers began their strike across the country from 6am on Wednesday.
Apart from them, bus-truck owners and workers continued their strike, which began Monday, in Chapainawabganj, Comilla, Tangail, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Jessore, Jhalakathi, Jhenaidah, Joypurhat, Khulna, Madaripur, Chuadanga, Meherpur, Narail, Satkhira, Kurigram, Bogra, Nilphamari and Munshiganj for the third consecutive day.
No movement of inter and intra-district buses had left thousands of passengers in distress across the country.
Passengers were seen hopelessly waiting at bus terminals for hours. They had to take three-wheelers or other small vehicles to reach their destinations by paying higher fares.
Many expressed frustration, saying the general people were suffering the most because of this dispute between the government and the transport owners and workers.
Students who attended the Primary Education Completion examinations in different districts were among those who had to find alternative modes of transport.
In Tangail, no buses left their terminals since the morning, halting bus communication between the district and the rest of the country. Road communication on Bangabandhu Bridge was also suspended.
Transport workers in Khulna, where the bus strike had first started on Monday, continued their strike on Wednesday, defying the authorities’ request to call it off.
Local raw goods traders around the country faced severe trouble too after workers of all types of cargo transport joined the truckers in abstaining from operating.
In Chapainawabganj, loading of goods was stopped at Sonamasjid Land Port. But trucks from India were allowed to unload. Traders said they feared no loss because of the strike, as there were no perishable goods.
At Hili Land Port in Dinajpur, operations were going on inside, but the trucks could not leave as the protesters had blockaded the Hili-Dinajpur road.
In Jhalakathi, transport owners said the workers had stopped operating buses on nine routes without any notice.
At Bhomra Land Port in Satkhira, importers suffered as there were no cargo transports. They had to move the goods in small vehicles to nearby districts at higher prices.
Our district correspondents contributed to this report