The fate of the Cabinet Division proposal for a separate “emergency lane” for VIPs, police, and others hangs in the balance after a frenzy of criticism.
On Monday, it was revealed that on December 31, 2017, the Cabinet Division had sent a proposal to the Road Transport and Highways Division (RTHD) to consider introducing a separate “emergency lane” for VIP movement, police vehicles, ambulances, and other emergency services.
The proposal will most likely be rejected given that the Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, during a meeting at the Secretariat on Tuesday, said people might not accept the concept of a dedicated lane for emergency services.
“We should think about this issue properly,” Quader was quoted as saying by a senior official, who attended the closed-door meeting, although the minister left out the fact that the lane was mainly proposed for VIP movement.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said they were alarmed by the proposal, calling it a clear violation of the constitution, discriminatory and the ulimate abuse of power.
Rights activist Sultana Kamal, at a program on Monday, said the government was creating divisional lines through such moves and no civilized country in the world would ever do this.
Citizens also took to Facebook to express anger and dismay at the proposal.
One Facebook user said: “Best part about having a separate VIP lane is that you clearly know which way to throw your shoes.”
Another person on social media said: “If a VIP lane ever happens, then the word itself will turn into a swear word. Will they be able to digest all the people swearing at them at once?”
Trying to quell public outrage, the prime minister's Deputy Press Secretary Ashraful Alam Khokon on Facebook said: “The Cabinet Division sent the proposal to the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges for viability. The proposal as it stands is – if an ambulance, fire service, and VIP vehicle can use a separate lane, then a patient does not have to die on the road, a fire truck can get to a fire on time, and VIPs and VVIPs will create fewer traffic jams when on the road.
“But this has been taken out of context by the media by just focusing on the VIP part, while other people, knowing fully well what the proposal is, began just running with that angle.”
The incidence of VIP cars driving in the wrong lane is so high that they are regularly fined by traffic police.
The Executive Director of TIB Iftekharuzzaman said: “The cabinet’s argument behind the proposal does not stand because of regardless of position or identity, everybody must follow the law.
But this has not stopped the public from criticizing the proposal, where one Facebook user said: “Are there any VIP lanes for VIPs in developed or any other countries in the world?”
Experts also think that this lane would not be viable given the capacity of Dhaka’s roads.
“The capacity of Dhaka's roads is much lower than the number of cars on it. As a result there is no lateral space for a separate VIP lane. This proposal is entirely unrealistic,” said Professor at the Department of the Civil Engineering at Buet Shamsul Hoque.
According the proposal, many densely populated cities in developed countries have separate lanes for vehicles carrying service providers, law enforcers, and VIPs, although it must be noted that they are known as express lanes and are usually on the highways.
Dr Sarwar Jahan from the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Buet told the Dhaka Tribune:
“The only place with a dedicated VIP lane in the world is in Saudi Arabia. A democratic country like ours should never follow their example.”
According to a World Bank study, a city should have 20-25% of road networks while Dhaka city only has 7-8%.
“Even if the government had dedicated lanes for VIPs on the new expressways, that too would create insufferable traffic jams for people. The best thing for them to do is start using helicopters in an emergency,” Dr Sarwar said.
“The government should implement a dedicated lane for public transport quickly,” he added.