School children coming in hordes, marching down the street in raw rage is something unprecedented. But that is happening right now, and it signifies only one thing – a show of complete no-confidence on the governance in the transport system.
We have had enough shares of deaths on the roads to have corrected the system and brought back some semblance of order. Every year, over seven thousand lives are lost mostly because of reckless driving and people's complete disregard for own safety – look at the jaywalkers blissfully crossing any busy road right beside the foot-over bridges by raising two fingers ahead of them to ask the speeding vehicles to take care of their course. In Dhaka city, most of the deaths occur to such jaywalkers who choose it on their own to run across the road at their free will.
But the public transports are the worst criminals. Manned by unlicensed drivers – there are only 19 lakh licensed drivers against 29 lakh vehicles as Bangladesh Road Transport Authority figures show – the buses change lanes at any time, stop at any place even in the middle of the road, and run at such speeds and manner that it is only surprising so few of us are dead.
And those who are supposed to bring order to the roads – the traffic police, the road transport authorities and the road planners – take no responsibility. Violations of traffic rules have now become the order of the day.
If we look at any intersection of the city the clear lack of traffic management is so evident that it makes us wonder why we should have any traffic police at all. Buses stop at crucial bends to offload and pick passengers. Look at Mohakhali flyover (actually it is an overpass). Right at the bottom of it, buses have created a stoppage at their own desire and choke the entire traffic. The passengers who get down or board the buses there are oblivious to the risk they take. Police have not stopped this unlawful activity probably our traffic department has no idea that such road behaviors lead to complete breakdown in traffic management.
Dhaka city, sprawling and growing fast in population, has another strange public transport called 'Leguna'. These are minivans and driven by kids as young as 12 to 13 years. They carry no licences and these young kids at the pump of their adrenalin zoom through the clogged city roads whenever they find a little space. Thousands of such vans make the roads unsafe and yet no action is taken against them.
Talking about licence it makes little difference. Exchange of some money at the right places can secure licence to anybody.
Looking at the minibuses that ply the city, it is a wonder how the drivers could not cause accidents every day. The steering wheels have so much of play that they should be uncontrollable. Their brake and clutch paddles are wonders in their own right, the skinny drivers must possess legs as strong as Rock's.
The drivers start their day with the break of dawn and drive through this clogged city until midnight in this heat and dust. Their grit to make some money is to be found nowhere else.
The traffic signal system in Dhaka is probably unique in the world (except maybe in some tucked-away African backwaters). Nobody can explain why the traffic lights exist at intersections when it is the valiant traffic policemen who risk their lives by jumping on the streets to stop the vehicles (we understand purchase of traffic signals and the relevant system transfers the public money to some pockets and that may be the only necessity to have those lights in place).
The highways are the worst places in terms of safety. The buses zip through the narrow and clogged highways as if they are on a racing track. The pockmarked roads make their going even more challenging. And look at the roadside markets blocking half the roads and the slow vehicles like rickshaws, vans and auto rickshaws all merrily occupying the roads.
The strangest things on the highways are probably the concrete blocks installed freely to separate the roads at places. These have no visible color coding and they appear so suddenly that any unaware driver is supposed to smash into them. The broken concrete slabs testify such crashes are a regular bit. And who can explain all those speed breakers on the highway, mostly unmarked too?
So much of illegal exchange of money is involved in the transport sector today -- right from the licensing process to extortion on the road by police and political thugs -- that no law works, no system lasts and no life remains secure.
Every time, and this time included, something happens, such as the hand of a boy is torn off by two buses, or the leg of a woman is crushed, or when a famous filmmaker dies in road crash, authorities suddenly start checking vehicle documents and filing cases. Such cosmetic actions die down in a few days with the end result a big zero. In absence of governance, everything becomes so meaningless.
So when the whole system is in such an abysmally low state and when deaths only stretch the string of body counts and when those who are supposed to mend the system sit and grin and when repeated uncountable appeals from different civil platforms and media to change the system go unheeded and when some innocent college students standing by the road to get on a bus are squished to death, it is not surprising that at one point of time some eruption would happen against this monster called our traffic management.
This time, it happened with the school children.