Monday, June 17, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Development is meant to improve our lives, not endanger them

Increasing accountability will lead to a better Bangladesh

Update : 13 Sep 2022, 11:09 PM

Fatalities and injuries due to poor regulations and implementation in Bangladesh often happen whether people are on the road, rail, sea, or above the air. The culture of and adherence to ethical governance and the judiciary are often not replicated by the executive branch and the courts -- and this has unfortunately always been the case. 

Our laws contain loopholes, and the section that oversees executions generally conducts unsatisfactory investigations. Therefore, the judicial system does not reflect justice and prevent such atrocious instances of human-caused death and severe injuries. 

However, the more people are aware of their rights and laws, the more we can contribute to decreasing such fatal situations.

For a country like Bangladesh to still be experiencing such institutional incoherence even after 50 years of independence is astonishing. Expecting government institutions to be accountable is unfortunately like living in a fantasy. 

A closer look

The BRT project authority's incompetence over the years have led to a series of incidents that resulted in fatalities. The most recent incident occurred on August 15 when a girder from the Uttara BRT-3 project fell on a vehicle, instantly killing five members of a family and wounding two more. While simultaneously, six people perished on the same day because of a plastics manufacturing factory fire, socio-economic considerations drive attention towards particular events (we shall come back to this later).

I would like to bring to your attention what practically transpires in other nations due to a human-caused incident. I often watch documentaries and read reports and articles worldwide on road, sea, and air disasters. Consequently, I am basing my writing on these events and how the rules and laws operate in general.

In such a case, many things emerge in a democratic country with good governance, both in developed and developing nations. Let us explore the best practices that are practically implemented in such countries with good governance and judiciaries.

First of all, the top-most officials concerned must resign from their positions in the involved ministry. If high office-holders in the ministry do not resign, the government itself is affected because the opposition parties join to ignite the issues in myriad ways. The directly involved staff of the incidents, including their supervisor, are required to be behind the bar. Even if there is a defect in the specific crane, the manufacturer of the equipment should be sued. Yet, do any of them frequently appear in our settings?  

Portugal’s interior minister, Eduardo Cabrita, resigned in December 2021 after his driver was involved in a car crash that killed a road worker while the government official was in the back seat. Cabrita claimed that he was just a passenger and had no direct involvement. 

In April 2022, Taiwanese Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung stepped down from his position the day after the deadly railway crash killed 49 people. Suresh Prabhu, former railway minister of India, gave up his ministry after two accidents in less than one week, leading to one of the biggest shake-ups in the Railways Ministry in 2017; it was said that Prime Minister Modi was unhappy and pushed for his resignation. 

Plenty of examples can be given, including our Asian peers, where the responsible ministers were held accountable and lost their positions. Will our ministers resign from their positions by taking responsibility for the negligence of their respective ministries? 

Second, a lawsuit is to be filed against the accountable institution and designated officials. It can bring both criminal charges and also suitable compensation (these fees are applicable to both deceased and surviving individuals). The accused may be charged with murder or participation in a murder.

In many instances, accused institutions and individuals attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement. It costs millions of dollars nonetheless. Many officials of the supervisory, construction, manufacturing, and other related parties are fired following the expenditure of such a large sum of money since the institutions must take such a case seriously due to external pressure. Costing the corporation millions of dollars eventually threatens the employment of the company's top executives. Pressure and the practice of good administration and judiciary are necessary to avoid such fatal incidents in the future. 

This is how things practically happen in other countries with their good governance and independent judiciary. Still, many plaintiffs prefer to go to court in order to obtain justice with the existing laws. 

The reality in Bangladesh

The frequency of such human-caused incidents would have decreased in Bangladesh had these practices been followed.

However, in Bangladesh, victims receive a few lakhs as compensation, depending on the socio-economic status, as opposed to a million-dollar compensation alone in other nations.

In the case of roads and water, the compensation is less or even less than one lakh per person as per ferry and road vehicle collisions. In the case of air, such as a plane catastrophe, the compensation is not high in Bangladesh. The US-Bangla plane tragedy exemplifies how easy it is to convince people, both victims and commoners, to accept whatever the victims are offered rather than what they should obtain. 

Please note that survivors of whatever means receive no compensation other than so-called medical expenses. It means that if a person loses their ability to work or becomes disabled, they will be unable to obtain any benefits. At the same time, victims and survivors have an equal right to seek justice for the same act of negligence.

You may be curious as to why I have brought up compensation and highlighted it. Due to the fact that charges in both directions (criminal and compensatory) place the responsible party or parties in a submissive position, it becomes advantageous for citizens to continue dealing with them on a practical level. We can call it an absolute bargaining position against these mighty and ruthless institutions and individuals.

Ultimately, it serves as a lesson and a warning to the responsible party and many others like them in other sectors to be more cautious in abiding by rules and laws.  In a number of nations, it practically rattles the entire judicial and administrative establishments. 

In Bangladesh, all lives are not equal

Considering Bangladesh, such an occurrence is not new. Instead, it happens repeatedly. The recent tragedy in the capital is receiving media coverage, yet, situations are worse outside the capital, which may not catch attention.  On the same day, a factory fire took lives because the workers were locked inside the factory and not allowed to go outside. They were unable to survive. 

Every life is not equal on the ground unfortunately (except for in our constitution and  conversations). So, apparently, no investigation has been conducted yet in order to punish these businesses. Fires and explosions in the factory with a locked gate or fatalities on the road or sea are homogenized to protect the perpetrators. It is also unfortunate that the media hypes selective cases.

The investigative committee on the Uttara disaster primarily submitted its findings on September 4, thanks to media coverage that put pressure on the relevant authorities. The investigation attributed the entire incident to the construction company, including the unqualified staff, low maintenance, implementation, and equipment. It does not hold anyone accountable, including the supervising authorities and responsible ministry. 

Only the driver and his assistant (helper) were taken into custody. 

The BRT project's protracted construction has put great hardship on those who utilize the route. The project was authorized in 2012 by the National Economic Council's Executive Committee (ECNEC) and originally intended to conclude in December 2016. Instead it was split into two halves and prolonged until June 30, 2020. Since the work would not be completed by 2020, the timeframe was extended to June of the current year. In the meanwhile, the budget for the project has more than doubled. Still, the project was not completed on time. The project's stakeholders believe that all work will be (maybe) completed by December 31. 

From the root to the top, the whole chain has loopholes and a lack of accountability. It applies to other sectors. These make both public, their lives, and their money vulnerable. 

As stated previously, however, such fatalities occur every other day. While it is asserted that every life matters, the reality is that lives matter depending on their socio-economic or social status (and of course, media coverage). Regardless of whether victims receive justice for criminal conduct, the media and the general public are appeased with whatsoever. 

An honest and adequate investigation would let us explore all the faults made by each party. TITAS, WASA, PWD, and other likewise institutions should be added to the list of unplanned and unorganized activities alongside BRT that affect people with their negligence throughout the year. 

Development is meant to improve our lives, not endanger them. The more accountability we are guaranteed to preserve today, the better Bangladesh we may obtain tomorrow.

MD Talebur Islam is a Researcher and Communications and Development Professional.

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