A citizens' forum yesterday demanded bringing hartal under a legal framework so that it does not turn violent, causing loss of lives, destruction of public properties, and a huge financial damage as seen recently.
Historically, hartal had always been a means to realise greater public rights, but in recent times all sort of criminal activities have been added to it, said the leaders of Gonotantrik Odhikar Shurokkha Parshad (Council to Protect Democratic Rights).
“We are not against hartal, but its effects go against people. So hartal should be put under certain rules and regulations,” said Khushi Kabir, convener of the council.
Addressing a discussion at the capital's Jatiya Press Club, she said recent trends showed that violence was meted out on the hartal eve, threatening public security.
In his keynote paper, the council coordinator Ananta Ahmed said over 200 people were killed and several thousand injured while 3,000 cars, and 400 buses, trucks were burnt during hartal in less than four months between November 2012 and March 19, 2013.
Citing the figures of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI), he said 84 days of hartal from October 2013 to January 2014 caused an estimated loss of Tk 100,000 crore.
“Had we been free of the negative impacts of hartal, our GDP growth could be 10 percent, and we would become a middle-income country by now,” Ananta said.
He said hartal had seriously affected some four crore students by forcing closure of educational institutions. Common people are the worst victims, he added.
“I am heavily concerned over the fact that the youths and children are losing their interest in politics due to the violent nature of hartal called by the political parties,” said Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International, Bangladesh.
Both enforcers and opponents of hartal get engaged in a competition of violence, and police's role at that time does not show any consistency with law, he said. The TIB official called for preparing a code of conduct for the political parties.
The speakers said hartal was really in favour of people, especially during the Pakistani regimes before 1971 and during the anti-Ershad movement in the 1990s, but the recent shutdowns did not receive much public support.
They also noted that nowadays political activists did not take to streets; rather picketers were hired to unleash violence, leading to the degeneration of the youth.
The citizens' forum recommended that hartal enforcers must commit that they would not resort to violence and would take every responsibility if it happened.
It also called for abstention from enforcing hartal on the day of public examinations, public holidays or any day having religious significance.