Experts surprised by lax enforcement of restrictions by government
Eid holiday makers continue to leave Dhaka for their home districts in droves, despite restrictions on long-distance public transports to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although the government decided to discourage the homebound Eid rush this year to contain the novel coronavirus, few measures appear to be in place to actually restrict long-distance travel.
The state-owned water transport corporation on Saturday allowed numerous long-distance passengers on ferries after suspending ferry services on the busy Paturia-Daulatdia and Shimulia-Banglabazar routes. The Dhaka-Tangail highway, known as the gateway to northern districts, also witnessed unprecedented traffic as holidaymakers began leaving Dhaka on buses as well.
Those who travelled by road switched vehicles on multiple occasions to cope with the suspension of long-route public transports.
Public health expert Dr Tarek Hossain expressed surprise at both the indifference of the home-goers towards the restrictions, and the relaxed attitude of the governmental authorities concerned about enforcing them.
“The authorities should be stricter to control the homebound rush,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) Chairman Syed Md Tajul Islam said: “We are allowing only emergency ferries. In many cases, agitated passengers created a rush, which was uncontrollable.”
Meanwhile, transport workers and owners are demanding the resumption of long-route bus services before Eid-ul-Fitr amid the high demand from intending travellers. Ruling party parliamentarian Shahjahan Khan, who is the president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, placed the demands during a press conference at the National Press Club.
‘Passengers forced their way on to ferry’
BIWTC Public Relations Officer Nazrul Islam told Dhaka Tribune passenger ferry services on Paturia-Daulatdia and Shimulia-Banglabazar were suspended on Saturday, but vessels carrying patients and goods were allowed to continue operations.
Mohammad Khorshed Alam, assistant manager of BIWTC at Daulatdia port, said ferry services had been suspended on the orders of the Shipping Ministry. "In case of an emergency, we can operate one or two ferries for people to cross the river."
At one point, thousands of passengers forced themselves on to the ferry Kunjolota at the Shimulia ghat.
“The Kunjolota had mistakenly left the Banglabazar ghat. It was carrying some ambulances and was not supposed to return. Passengers were waiting at the Shimulia end and forcibly boarded the ferry as soon as it reached the ghat. As the passengers had occupied the ferry to its maximum capacity, the ghat authorities were forced to let it leave for Madaripur,” said an official of the BIWTC at the Shimulia ferry terminal.
Roads congested with holidaymakers
The Dhaka-Tangail highway and Bangabandhu bridge, known as the gateway to the northern districts, witnessed unprecedented traffic yesterday morning as Eid holidaymakers were leaving Dhaka on buses, and various private vehicles, including trucks, pickups, cars and motorcycles.
The vehicles were seen carrying passengers beyond maximum capacity, leaving no scope to follow health guidelines. Some transport workers took advantage of the desperation of homebound travellers, charging them extra fares.
Hanif Mia, a truck driver headed for Bogra, said he had been pushing heavy traffic on the Dhaka-Tangail Highway since early morning.
Yasir Arafat, in charge of the Elenga Highway police outpost, said that the pressure suddenly mounted on the Dhaka-Tangail-Bangabandhu Bridge Highway following the suspension of the Shimulia-Banglabazar and Paturia-Daulatdia ferry services on Saturday morning.
He said traffic would normalize as the day progressed.
Police were slapping fines on long-distance buses that disobeyed the travel ban, he added.
Transport workers and owners demand resumption of long-route bus:
Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation President Shahjahan Khan demanded financial and food aid for workers. He threatened to wage a tougher movement if the demands were not met.
Shahjahan Khan demanded a Tk5,000 crore stimulus package on low-interest loans and a disbursement of salaries and bonuses for workers before Eid. He also demanded the distribution of Open Market Sales (OMS) rice for workers at Tk10 per kg.
Among his demands are getting all banks and financial organizations to waive debt interest for public transport businesses, and suspension of instalments till December 31 due to Covid-19; changing classified debts into unclassified ones in exchange for a 2% down payment along with a waive tax-token, waiver of route permit fees of vehicles during the travel restrictions, and extending the deadline for updating documents till December 31.