The state has a responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens
The unnerving road accident which took the lives of two young students opened our eyes to exactly how dangerous living in this country can often be. Accustomed to injustice, we have become habituated to losing our friends and family members.
But the students protesting for the last few days have ignited a flame.
Why injure students?
The aggrieved students have demonstrated the most organized and peaceful protest in the history of Bangladesh to date. They have cleared up the way for Hajj pilgrims and ambulances while respectfully obstructing the roads for the rest.
The juveniles have set an example of equality before the law as they checked licenses of police officers and even the chauffeur of a minister, which had to stop before their determination.
They have shown how revolutionary change can be brought in this country’s traffic system if there is will. All they demand is justice for the lost lives of their friends. And yet, these students are not safe from the cudgels of the authority.
The government is responsible
Public transport services instill a sense of competition among the drivers. There’s no denying that their lack of judiciousness in racing with other vehicles and not following traffic rules are responsible for so many unfortunate occurrences.
The common reasons behind any accident are either public transport drivers’ maverick attitudes or the unfit conditions of their vehicles. In both cases, with the personal liability on the drivers and the bus agencies, it does not absolve the government of its own responsibilities.
Corruption in the transportation sector is costing our country dearly, with lives being lost every day -- and yet state actors have the audacity to scoff it all off. The impunity enjoyed by drivers even after being responsible for a life-taking accident has left them without fear of the consequences of breaking the law.
Allowing unfit vehicles to ply the roads, giving licenses to a driver who is inept or imprudent, all of these fall under the duties of the government. The Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 bars driving in public places without any license under Section 3(1), and Section 43(1)(a) allows for the suspension of registration if the use of a vehicle in a public place appears to constitute a danger to the public.
Should we not hold the government responsible for the lives lost on the streets because of their lack of enthusiasm in upholding these laws?
Our rights and the judiciary
Inability in ensuring citizens’ right to protection and life, as postulated in Article 32 of the constitution, is a definite infringement of our fundamental rights. This, however, makes a case of constitutional tort, when the government can be made responsible for the worst violation of a constitutional right: The death of a citizen.
Bangladesh is slowly coming to grips with the concept of constitutional tort, the Jihad case from around four years ago being the newest addition to this growing jurisprudence. As the court reiterated its jurisdiction to grant compensation in constitutional tort cases, the government could be made to pay reparations and be ordered by the court to take the necessary measures and adopt new policies to offer safer roads.
A trend of granting compensation in road accident cases is slowly emerging. After Bangladesh Beverage Industries Ltd v Rowshan Akter -- a pioneering case of compensation -- the Catherine Masud case can be regarded as the ideal example where the judiciary has actually taken into consideration the loss of a loved one.
The High Court, on July 30, ordered Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan to pay Tk500,000 in seven days to each of the families of the two students who were killed in the Airport Road incident. The HC bench issued a rule seeking explanation in four weeks why a directive should not be given to the owner of Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan to pay Tk2 crore to each family as compensation.
Unfortunately, it is a common scenario that the compensation remains unpaid and the proceedings would linger in the appellate division. Hence, the orders of the court oftentimes remain, in a sense, unheeded due to lack of implementation. Hopefully, this time will be different.
Will the government bypass its responsibilities with rhetoric yet again? Given the current state of affairs, it seems they have a decision to make.
Raihan Rahman Rafid is a legal activist.