Two college students were run over as two Jabal-e-Noor buses were speeding to overtake each other on Airport Road last year
A Dhaka court has sentenced two bus drivers, and a driver’s assistant of Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan to life in prison in a case filed over the deaths of two college students in a road accident in the capital last year.
Sixteen months after the incident, which sparked a nationwide student protest, Judge KM Imrul Kayes of the Metropolitan Sessions Judge’s Court handed down the verdict on Sunday in a jam-packed courtroom.
Two other accused were acquitted by the court, as the charges levelled against them were not proven beyond doubt.
Delivering the judgment on Sunday, the court observed that people of Bangladesh were unable to avoid being crushed under the wheels of a bus because of the apathy and carelessness of the drivers and their assistants.
It also added that the competition among drivers to earn more money, in order to meet the owners’ daily demand, should be immediately stopped.
On July 29, 2018, Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College students Diya Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib were killed on the spot and several others were injured, when a Jabal-e-Noor bus ploughed through a crowd in front of Kurmitola General Hospital on Airport Road, while competing with another bus of the same company.
Diya’s father Jahangir Alam, who also drove a bus but has quit since her death, had filed the case later that day. Police on September 6 last year pressed charges against six accused, who were also indicted on October 25 of the same year.
A massive road safety movement had followed the incident, which then led to the foundation of the Road Transport Act 2018 that came into force last month.
Jabal-e-Noor bus drivers Masum Billah and Jubayer Sumon, and driver’s assistant Md Asad Kazi were jailed for life for committing culpable homicide, not amounting to murder, in line with Section 304 of the Penal Code.
Of them, Asad is still on the run.
The trio was also fined Tk50,000 each. They will suffer six more months in prison if they fail to pay the fine.
The two who were acquitted are Jahangir Alam, one of the owners of the two buses, and Enayet Hossain, another driver’s assistant.
Another suspect in the case, Md Shahadat Hossain Akondo, the owner of the other bus, secured bail earlier, after the High Court stayed the trial proceedings against him.
Prosecution happy, families not
In his immediate reaction to the verdict, Public Prosecutor Abdullah Abu expressed satisfaction, saying the bus drivers and their assistants had caused the deaths “intentionally.”
“They received the maximum punishment according to the law. This sends out a strong message that no-one will get away with driving recklessly,” he added.
Meanwhile, Diya’s family expressed dissatisfaction over the verdict, and urged the state counsel to move the High Court seeking death sentence for Masum Billah, who was the driver of the bus that crushed the two college students.
Diya’s uncle Selim Hossain told reporters: “He [the driver] should be hanged. He had no driving licence, and the other necessary credentials. Yet, he was driving the bus. He should be hanged.”
Lawyers of the convicts said they would appeal at the higher courts challenging the verdict.
Ilias Kanchan, veteran actor and chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai — an organization working to improve the country’s road safety situation, told Dhaka Tribune that he was “happy” with the verdict.
“Now what I wish for is the swift execution of the verdict,” said Ilias, who the court on Sunday called an “institution” for his and his organization’s relentless work to improve road safety.
Addressing the transport workers who recently went on strike demanding amendment to the Road Transport Act, he said: “When a person dies [in a road accident], the grief cripples their family. They [transport owners and workers] need to feel it too. They need to respect the act.”
The court on Sunday in its observation talked about the causes behind frequent road crashes and the deaths caused by them.
It said that the daily deposit money, fixed by owners, was difficult for the drivers and their assistants to collect.
That is why, to make the owners happy, drivers’ rush to make quick trips while competing among themselves, apart from taking on more passengers and collect more fare in order to meet the owners’ target and earn more. And because of these, accidents occur, observed the court.
Urging traffic police personnel to be more responsible and check licences of drivers, the court said accidents were happening as unskilled drivers with light vehicle licences were recklessly driving heavy vehicles.
The court, in this regard, asked the vehicle owners to play a positive role, and properly address the issue.