Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader yesterday admitted that the government could not fully implement the ban on the movement of locally-made three-wheelers' on highways due to opposition from many politicians, including public representatives.
“Many politicians of the country are behind it. We give order [banning these three-wheelers] … on the other hand, many public representatives encourage the plying of such vehicles,” he said, without naming anyone.
“For this reason, I often say all problems will be solved if we can fix politics. The main problem lies here,” said Quader, also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League.
Currently, most of the lawmakers and other public representatives of the local government bodies, including district, upazila, union councils and municipalities, belong to the AL.
Quader was speaking at views-exchange meeting on road accidents organised at his ministry. The programme was attended, among others, by road safety experts, campaigners, leaders of transport owners and workers, and officials from the ministry and police.
The plying of slow and fast vehicles side by side remains a major cause of accidents that claim hundreds of lives every year. The number of slow vehicles increases during the Eid rush, causing more fatalities, according to experts and transport leaders.
In July 2015, the road transport and bridges ministry had banned the movement of three-wheelers and other slow and unfit vehicles on 22 national highways across the country. The ban came into effect later on August 1 and on several occasions, the ministry issued directives to implement it.
But, the vehicles continue to operate on the highways, causing frequent road crashes.
Obaidul Quader claimed that they have been able to remove 60 to 90 percent of the three-wheelers from the highways. “Recently, battery-run rickshaw has become a new menace,” he said.
He said there were several hundred easy bike factories in the country and that they ordered the local administrations to shut those down. “But the implementation rate is zero,” he said, referring to the order. “Sometimes, I feel helpless.”
Asked about the recent road accidents, he said, “I am also a human being. This [road accident] also affects me.”
Obaidul claimed that he convened several hundred meetings over the road safety issue and visited roads during days and nights during his seven-year tenure as the minister. “I have been working round-the-clock for the country. But if people do not get its benefit, the work has no value. I can't demand credit for it.
“There is a serious lack of coordination. The government has taken many projects [in this regard] but the implementation rate is very slow,” he said.
Responding to the demand for amending the proposed Road Transport Act, 2018, he said, “It's not yet final. Still there is scope for revision.”
The minister said the bill would be placed in parliament and then would be sent to the relevant parliamentary standing committee, which may seek opinions. He hoped the bill would be placed in the next session, which would be the last one of the current parliament.
He also thanked students for waging the recent protest for road safety measures, saying that the proposed law would finally see the light due to the agitation. The cabinet had approved in principle the draft law almost a year ago.
At the meeting, architect Mobasher Hossain, former president of Institute of Architects, Bangladesh, emphasised on the strict enforcement of traffic laws for bringing discipline to the transport sector.
“Everybody knows the law. The implementation of the law is the most important thing which needs to be done impartially,” he said.
Regarding the proposal of introducing traffic rules in textbooks, he said students' learning from those books and their firsthand experience would be different.
“From books, they would learn to stop by looking at red light and to start by looking at green lights. But [in reality] traffic police ask them to go when the red lights turn on,” he said.
He lamented that late Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Annisul Huq's initiatives for bringing all city buses under a few companies remained unimplemented.
Prof Mizanur Rahman, director of Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Buet, said speed was not the reason for the road accidents in the capital, as the average speed of vehicles in the city was seven to eight kilometres.
Rather, the unhealthy competition between the drivers for passengers is the reason behind the accidents. Owners rent their vehicles to drivers on daily contract basis, he said.
So the introduction of bus franchise system (bringing buses under a few companies) in the capital can be the solution, he added.
Plying of slow and fast vehicles side by side is one of the main reasons for road accident on highways and such non-standard vehicles cause more fatalities compared to standard vehicles in accidents, he said.
On many occasion, public representatives put pressure so that such vehicles can operate on the highways. So indirectly, they are responsible for road accidents, he added.
Noted columnist Syed Abul Moksud said, “It seems a killing competition is going on in the last few days… During my 40-year journalism career, I have never seen such a huge number of road crashes.”
He said in the last two years the prime minister and the road transport and brides minister gave many directives, which were not implemented. The reasons behind the non-implementation should be investigated and those who are responsible should be identified, he added.
Noted road safety campaigner Ilias Kanchan said not only the drivers, but also the bus owners and others were responsible for road accidents and they should be brought to book.
Faruk Talukder Sohel, chairman of Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners' Association, DIG (highway police) Atiqul Islam, and Mir Rezaul Alam, additional commissioner (Traffic) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police also spoke at the meeting.