The horrific collision between a microbus and a speeding bus that killed nine people—part of a bridal party and included six members of the groom’s party—on Friday November 22, is yet another tragic reminder of how dangerous our roads are in the absence of proper enforcement of the law. What is also tragic is the fact that the much-watered down Road Transport Act 2018, is still yet to be enforced on the ground because of random strikes by transport workers’ unions across the country that succeed in paralysing the entire nation and holding the public hostage. Now Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation has announced that it will enforce a countrywide 72-hour strike in January if their demands to bring certain amendments to the Road Transport Act are not met.
And what are these “amendments” that the transport workers believe are justifiable for such strikes? The demand for an end to police harassment on the roads is quite legitimate and is in fact an essential condition to ensure that the Act is enforced fairly and objectively. The allegations of police taking speed money for various reasons have to be dealt with very strictly and the practice must be eliminated. But the demand to make all offences under the act bailable, is the most controversial one, as this is exactly what will ensure that the long-standing impunity enjoyed by transport workers who have caused death and injury due to reckless driving, will continue, keeping the roads as unsafe as ever. The indulgent attitude of the government towards the demands of the transport workers at the expense of public safety is disappointing to say the least.
After the passionate road safety movement by students that was supported by the public in general, the act, though passed last September, still cannot be implemented because of the lobbying of transport leaders. Are we to understand that the government will have to agree to make all offences bailable, even if it entails the wilful negligence or recklessness of a driver leading to death? Should the crime of illegally modifying a vehicle, which may also lead to injury and death in a road crash, be made bail-worthy? Are the transport workers’ unions so powerful that they can actually make the government bend over backwards to accommodate such unreasonable demands? We sincerely hope not.