Transport workers yesterday resumed operation only after their leader Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan intervened.
Shajahan, also executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, made a call for ending the transport strike following two meetings -- one with two ministers and another with transport owners and workers.
Vehicular movements started getting normal across the country after his call amid clashes between the strikers and police in the capital's Gabtoli bus terminal area that claimed the life of an agitating driver.
Shajahan held the first meeting in the morning with Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader and Law Minister Anisul Huq -- both of whom requested Shajahan to help put an end to the public sufferings, sources said.
Obaidul and Anisul also assured him of cooperation and legal assistance to the strikers, who had been demanding “justice” following two court verdicts that sentenced one driver to life and another to death over separate road accidents.
"Following their [Obaidul and Anisul] assurance, we're requesting all workers and owners to operate their vehicles… We believe road communications will become normal following our request," Shajahan told a press conference at the office of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association in the capital around 2:30pm.
"They've realised the demand of the transport workers and assured us of legal assistance," he said after the meeting with transport workers and owners.
State Minister for Rural Development and Cooperatives Mashiur Rahman Ranga, also president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, and Khandaker Enayetullah, general secretary of the association, were present at both meetings.
The strike began on Sunday initially in 10 southern districts under Khulna division, protesting a verdict that gave life sentence to a bus driver over the deaths of filmmaker Tareque Masud, media personality Ashfaque Munier Mishuk and three others in an accident in 2011. A court in Manikganj, where the accident happened, gave the verdict on February 22.
Then on Monday, a Dhaka court sentenced a truck driver to death over the death of a woman in a 2003 accident in Savar.
In protest, transport workers extended their strike to other parts of the country without any formal announcement.
In fact, the decision to enforce the countrywide strike came at a meeting of transport owners and workers at Shajahan's house on Monday night. Ranga was also present at the meeting, sources said.
Yesterday, Quader and Anisul requested Shajahan and Ranga to intervene so transport workers call off their strike, meeting sources said, asking not to be named.
The law minister even went on to assure Shajahan that the government would provide legal assistance to the agitating workers.
Shajahan assured them that he would speak with the leaders and workers of other transport associations.
From this meeting at the road transport ministry, Shajahan and Ranga along with transport association leaders and workers went to the office of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association where they held an hour-long meeting.
At the meeting, some workers' leaders put pressure on Shajahan and Ranga so they don't call on them to resume operation. They argued that death or life sentence over road accidents was not justifiable.
Shajahan and Ranga then told them that Obaidul and Anisul assured him of legal assistance in this regard.
Asked who is responsible for the public suffering and business losses, Shajahan told the press conference that people would evaluate that.
Transport workers earlier told The Daily Star that they called the strike with full backing of their leaders, though Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, the top transport workers' body, tried to distance itself from the move.
But Federation General Secretary Osman Ali said on Tuesday, "The Federation did not call the strike; workers did. The workers even stopped working spontaneously. Had the Federation called the strike, we would have done so through a press conference.”
Over the last few years, Shajahan drew much criticism for defending road transport workers and their demands, sometimes even illogical ones.
The strike caused immense public sufferings and huge business losses.
Perishable goods like fruits, vegetables and fish were rotting at various land and river ports as well as wholesale markets across the country, our correspondents say.
Though the strike was initially peaceful, it turned violent on Tuesday when transport workers clashed with police at Gabtoli Bus Terminal.
Tension was high in the area throughout the night as additional police and Rab members were called in.
Yesterday, a transport worker died after being shot by police during clashes.
The dead is Shah Alam, driver of a Baishakhi Paribahan bus.
He suffered pellet injuries, said Manjurul Haque, medical officer of Selina General Hospital, where he was initially taken.
Meanwhile, police filed two cases over Tuesday night's violence at Gabtoli against 46 named and over 1,000 unnamed people.
A woman filed another case over the injury of her son in the incident.
THE LONE MAN
Despite the public sufferings across the country, no treasury or opposition bench lawmakers discussed the issue in parliament.
The only MP to raise the issue is Tahzeeb Alam Siddique, an independent lawmaker.
“Holding innocent people hostage, transport owners and workers want to remain above the law, the entire judicial system and the court,” he said, narrating how road communications collapsed because of the strike.