In what appears to be an old trick to counter the ongoing student movement for safe roads, transport owners and workers yesterday suspended bus services between the capital and other districts in an undeclared strike, causing untold sufferings to thousands of people.
The passengers had to either return home or remain stranded at bus terminals in the city and elsewhere as transport operators refused to run buses.
Transport owners said they made the decision for fear of vandalism amid protests over the deaths of two students on Airport Road on Sunday. The agitating students demand safety on roads through a total reform to the transport sector where corruption and mismanagement are rife.
Khandaker Enayetullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Transport Owners' Association, claimed that around 400 buses were vandalised and eight buses were torched across the country over the last six days.
“Owners and workers are feeling insecure. They suspended bus services spontaneously,” he said at a press briefing at the association office in the capital yesterday afternoon.
He said the owners and workers' associations didn't issue any directives in this regard, and that the suspension will remain until normalcy returns.
Asked about people's sufferings, Enayetullah said the owners had to suspend the service considering the workers' safety.
He, however, said they have kept the night coach services open.
Meanwhile, Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said the transport owners and workers stopped bus service due to insecurity.
Drivers were beaten up at some places, he told reporters after attending a milad mahfil at Mohakhali for one of the two victims -- Dia Khanam Mim whose father Jahangir Alam is a transport leader.
“We have observed today's [Friday] situation. If a similar situation prevails tomorrow, I hope the owners and workers will resume services,” said Shajahan, also executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers' Federation.
Asked about the agitating students' demand for his resignation, Shajahan said, “This is BNP's demand, not students'.”
Transport sector analysts say whenever there is a strong protest against anomalies in the transport sector, owners and labour leaders halt services, which is nothing but a trick to weaken the justified movement of people.
As per the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983, any unannounced strike by transport owners is a punishable offence. And the authorities can cancel route permits for such an offence.
Talking to this newspaper, Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, said, “The ill effort to victimise people and put the government in a precarious situation is not expected in any way.”
Just when the prime minister has given directives to bring certain reforms to the transport sector amid the student movement, the transport owners have resorted to the trick of halting services across the country, he said.
Transport owners played the same trick on many previous occasions, including the one in 2015 when there was a campaign against unfit vehicles.
“Such tricks of the transport owners are a major barrier to improving good governance and establishing the rule of law in transport sector. We cannot accept it anymore,” said Mozammel.
It's the passengers who have to bear the brunt of such tricks, he added.
PASSENGERS SUFFER IN CAPITAL
Hundreds of passengers remained stranded at Gabtoli, Mohakhali and Syedabad terminals as no long-route buses were operated from any of the terminals in the capital.
At the Gabtoli bus station, scores of passengers were seen looking for transport.
Finding no bus, some of them rented pick-ups to go to Aricha. Each of them had to pay around Tk 500 for the ride, which is only Tk 50 for a bus.
The news of suspension of bus services came as a shock to 70-year-old Samiran Begum who came to the capital from Satkhira with her three family members for treatment two days ago.
“How will we spend the night here?” she told this newspaper yesterday afternoon.
Hundreds of passengers crowded the BRTC bus station and other terminals in Goribullah Shah and Olonkar intersection areas only to learn that the bus service to all districts, except for Chittagong Hill Tracts, had been suspended.
Motaleb Mia, a garment worker, said he was waiting for a bus for more than an hour to go to Noakhali.
“All the counters are closed. No one is saying anything about what happened. We guess transport owners gave orders to halt bus services because of the student protest,” he told this newspaper in the morning.
Another passenger, Kamal Uddin, had been waiting for a Dhaka-bound bus since 10:00am but could not find any till 4:00pm.
“It is totally unacceptable to make people suffer this way. Everything in the transport sector is aimed at protecting the transport owners' interests. There is no one to protect the interests of common people,” he said.
Kofil Ahmed, secretary general of Inter-District Bus Owners' Association, said they decided to halt the service for fear of vandalism.
“We got instructions from Dhaka to stop bus services as they fear that our vehicles may come under attack,” he said without giving any details.
Many passengers, including foreigners, got stranded in the Benapole Check Post area after crossing the Indian side of the border.
“How long will we remain stranded here? The drivers have stopped running buses. What is this?” said Abdur Rahman who returned from India yesterday morning.
Some passengers were seen hiring vehicles to go to their relatives' houses nearby while others kept waiting at the bus terminals for hours.
The suspension of long-route bus services caused immense sufferings to passengers in Rangpur, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Bogra, Joypurhat and Naogaon.
Our Dinajpur correspondent found scores of buses parked at Rangpur Central Bus Terminal as well as the bus stations in Kamarpara and Satmatha intersection areas in Rangpur city.
Failing to get any bus, many of the passengers returned home.
Talking to this newspaper, Monjur Rahman, general secretary of Rajshahi Road Transport Owners' Group and also a leader of the Awami League, said they would operate buses at night.
No bus left any stations in Sylhet, Sunamganj, Moulvibazar and Habiganj.
Transport workers put up barricades at many points on the highways so that no bus can ply long-haul routes.
In Barisal, bus service remained suspended as Dhaka-bound buses from the district were unable to ply the roads through Madaripur, the home district of Shajahan,
The situation was the same in Comilla, Barisal, Mymensingh, Chuadanga, Jhenidah, Pabna, Sirajganj, Kushtia, Khulna, Chandpur, Khulna, Bagerhat, Narail, Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Satkhira, Jessore and Magura.
The BNP yesterday alleged that bus owners and workers suspended service following ministers' directives.
“The services have been suspended at the ministers' directives in a bid to gloss over the justified demands of the students,” BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told journalists at a press briefing at the party's Nayapaltan office.