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News Analysis: Will government bow down to them?

  • Published at 12:33 am April 29th, 2017
News Analysis: Will government bow down to them?
The government suspended its drive to stop so-called seating or gate-lock bus services in Dhaka for 15 days only three days after it had started. The suspension came in the face of vehement pressure from transport owners, even if Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) apparently cited public sufferings as a reason for backtracking on the move. Vehicle owners’ association announced to stop the “service” early this month, with the people voicing objections against the fleecing of commuters in the name of seating service. And, mobile courts started the drive on April 16 accordingly. Contrary to public perception, the situation, however, turned even more chaotic as soon as the drive started since those who previously ran such services are still charging passengers the seating service fares even though they apparently discontinued it. Also, in a bid to “teach” passengers, the transport owners created an artificial crisis by reducing the number of vehicles on roads, forcing them to ride in overcrowded vehicles and endure long waits amid sweltering heat of the summer. In some cases, complaining passengers were seen falling prey to assaults by transport workers. These all have resulted in an unprecedented impasse in the public transport system, making children, women and elderly people the worst sufferers. The resultant public nuisance, scuffles over fares and grievances have seemingly driven the government on April 19 to announce the suspension, signifying a de facto authorisation to run the service, on the one hand, and a moral defeat on the government side, on the other. Also, it was a bid of the owners and workers to hoodwink the masses into agreeing to whatever they want and a demonstration of blatant disregard for the government’s moves.
The government lacks care for the people and public supports as required to deal with the vested quarters. It does not have the courage to admit this either
They do not even bother to comply with fare rates stipulated by the BRTA. Though there have long been objections against their notorious capriciousness, stern actions have hardly been taken to prevent them from doing so as they are “well organised” and constitute a vital component of the ruling Awami League while there is none to stand by the passengers as they are not organised under a common umbrella. Sometimes the authorities take some steps that end up resulting in nothing but failure. Following a High Court order, the government, for instance, on August 5 last year launched a drive against unfit, unlicensed vehicles plying the streets. This, too, went in vein as many such vehicles temporarily stopped running to dodge mobile courts, inflicting immense sufferings on the people. Hence, the transport system is virtually stuck in the cycle of anarchy-crackdown-anarchy. Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader has been assigned to the transport sector, who seems to have no control over it. The minister is often heard promising actions against the bunch of crooks, but every time he fails to bring a perceptible difference to these chaotic circumstances. Obaidul Quader said: “…Transport owners do not respond to [our] calls. They are so powerful that you cannot take a hard line on them … they are too many in number. So, when it comes to reality, taking actions against them is not so easy.” Such words from him imply that he is not a minister but patron of the vehicle owners and workers. Also, it raises a question as to who is more powerful: the government or the transport owners. Does the government have any moral ground to stay in power if it cannot take actions against the offenders? In fact, what he did or could not say is his government is unable to go against vested quarters. The government lacks care for the people and public supports as required to deal with the vested quarters. It does not have the courage to admit this either. Gangsters backed by the ruling party are holding sway over the sector. Khandaker Enayet Ullah, vice-president of Dhaka south unit Awami League, heads the transport owners’ association Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity, while Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan is controlling the whole sector. Shajahan, an influential leader of transport workers, is serving as a minister, on the one hand, and he is the executive president of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, on the other. Ruling party leaders are controlling not only the two bodies, but also all such associations. Even, those who are involved in extortion and foul play in the transport sector are either activists or leaders of the Awami League. This is because the authorities fail to bring any qualitative change. To the government, interest of certain quarters always gets priority over public interest, which is why the drive to stop so-called illegal seating or gate-lock services lost to them. Again, it does beg the question of whether the government is actually sincere about purging the sector of these drawbacks. Is the government not accountable to the people it pledged services? Does the people’s plight not stir their conscience? Have they lost their capacity? If not, then why are they unable to tackle such an anarchic situation? Has it become completely impossible for the government to bridle the errant transport owners? Will the government bow down to them?