Anyone operating a non-motorised vehicle or driving violating the speed limits on the highways will be slapped a fine of Tk 10,000, says the draft of a new law.
The draft Highway Act-2019 stipulates the same fine for piling up goods on the roads and driving on the wrong side.
It also proposes bringing the Highway Police under the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges so that the police can work in coordination with the Roads and Highways Department (RHD). Currently, the Highway Police falls under the jurisdiction of the home ministry.
The government is going to enact the law aiming to end indiscipline, obstacles, and illegal occupation on highways and to ensure safety of vehicles. Once passed, the law will replace the century-old Highway Act-1925, said officials concerned.
“We’ve taken the move to make the relevant law time befitting,” Humayun Kabir Khandaker, additional secretary (Estate) of the Road Transport and Highway Division, told The Daily Star on Monday.
The RHD prepared the draft and sent it to the division in December last year after which a six-member committee, headed by an additional secretary of the division, worked on it. Later, the division finalised the draft through holding two meetings participated by almost all of its top officials.
“Now we will upload the draft on our website to receive opinions from the stakeholders. Before sending the draft to the Cabinet Division for approval, we will organise an inter-ministerial meeting [for opinions],” Humayun said.
There are some 21,302kms of highways, including 3,812kms of national highways, 4,246kms of regional highways and 13,242kms of district highways, under the department, according to the RHD’s 2017-18 annual report.
Despite a ban, non-motorised vehicles, including CNG-run Nasiman and Kariman, continue to ply the country’s 22 highways. Besides, simultaneous operation of speedy and slow vehicles on the roads is a commonplace.
Also, as of April, there were at least 20,172 illegal structures on or along the roads and highways across the country. RHD data show 148.81 acres of the department’s land were under illegal occupation.
These slow vehicles and the structures, especially near intersections, are largely blamed for highways accidents which claim thousands of lives every year.
Such deaths on roads have become a major concern for the country which has already witnessed two student movements for road safety in the last nine months. The agitations came following the deaths of three students -- two from a college and one from a private university -- in the capital.
WHY NEW ACT?
Officials involved in drafting the new law said different new elements related to highways have been added, broadening its scope. Many “issues” do not come under the purview of the current law, they said.
The current law has only five sections -- title, extent and commencement, definition, temporary closing of government road, power to make rules, and penalties. The new law will have 28.
As per the Highway Act-1925, all “government roads” are under the Public Works Department (PWD). But in reality, things are different.
For decades, they have been under the jurisdiction of the RHD, said its officials.
In one hand, the number and usage of highways has increased since 1925, and on the other, many issues like expressway and control-access expressway have surfaced in the road sector.
“So, we need a law to deal with those issues,” an RHD official, said wishing anonymity.
The Highways Act-1925 aims at preventing obstruction, encroachment and nuisances on or near the roads. It stipulates Tk 10,000 in fine for violations and a six-month jail term for repeated offence.
WHAT ELSE IN THE LAW
According to draft law, the government can declare any road a highway or controlled-access highway or expressway by issuing a gazette.
Besides, no road or highway can be connected to the controlled-access highway without prior approval from the RHD. If necessary, the RHD would construct intersections, interchange, excel lanes and merge lanes to connect them, the draft said.
Government and non-government utility service providers have to take prior approval and pay charges to install lines beside the highways.
And, the government and non-government authorities have to shift their establishments at their own cost if necessary for development or maintenance of highways, it said.
Setting up any infrastructure without approval from the RHD would be considered “infiltration”, the draft said.
Apart from the dedicated lane for slow-moving vehicles, no non-motorised vehicle would be allowed to operate on highways, the draft said, adding that one has to pay Tk 10,000 in fine for violating the provision.
Currently, very few highways have separate lanes for slow-moving vehicles.
Fish or livestock cannot be transported by any vehicles, except for truck or similar vehicles. No motor vehicles, that can harm the highway, would be allowed on the roads. One has to pay Tk 5,000 in fine for violating these provisions.
The RHD would take necessary steps to stop plying of overloaded vehicles for the durability of the highway. To make this happen, it would establish excel load control centres on highways, the draft said.
One has to face punishment as per the Road Transport Act-2018 for violations, said the draft.
The Road Transport Act says a person has to face one-year jail term or Tk 1 lakh in fine or both for the offence.
The RDH or its officials cannot be made accountable for any accident due to fault in design, construction and maintenance of highways if done unwillingly or without any “ill motive”, as per the draft.
However, according to the Road Transport Act, if any accident occurs due to faults in design, or construction or maintenance, the construction firm, the maintenance authorities and assigned peoples would be held responsible, and action could be taken against them as per the existing law.
The draft also says the RHD has to consider possible effects of climate change while constructing highways and has to build climate resilient structures in vulnerable areas.