Going on the wrong side is just plain wrong!
Sometimes people take things a little too literally. Just because a place is called 'Shonir Akhra' (the devil's den) does not mean that everyone who lives there must be engaging in nefarious activities though perhaps there may be some basis in past history for such name-calling. Similarly, just because a road is called a VIP road, does not mean that VIPs own the road and may apply their own rules when going on them. It only means that it is a road that Very Important Persons may take to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately it also happens to be a Lesser Mortals Road too which means an inevitable class struggle and a high level of resentment among us ordinary folk, who must watch, experiencing sauna-like conditions in our vehicles while stuck in an excruciating gridlock, the merry breezing away of SUVs on the wrong side of the road. The alacrity with which traffic and other police make way for these lawbreakers only adds to the bitterness.
It is therefore hard not to sport that Cheshire cat smile when you read something like 'HC move to stop wrong side driving in Dhaka'. Yes! Finally, someone is doing something about the preposterous level of highhandedness displayed by people who are either truly very important or think they are very important. But whether they are VIPs or wannabe VIPs or the minions of VIPs it doesn't matter – the fact is that no one is so important that he/she has the authority to blatantly flout traffic rules by going on the wrong side of the road and risking the lives of people in the process. People have been killed or maimed by such acts of utter defiance of the law. In February a police vehicle going on the wrong side of the road in Kakoli, rammed into a young motorcyclist, snuffing the life out of him.
A Supreme Court lawyer has filed a petition based on a photograph published in The Daily Star that showed a vehicle belonging to a Very Important Person going on the wrong side of the road. The Daily Star, in fact has been relentlessly publishing these photographs – flag bearing, non flag bearing, cars belonging to law enforcement agents, even public university buses (which have become the latest thugs on the road). The police commissioner has declared that the police have video footage of those who go on the wrong side of the road but has also admitted that 'a large number of vehicles that drive on the wrong side belong to the influential people of the society'. And we all know what that means!
It is quite impressive that vice chancellors of some of the most renowned public universities, a cabinet secretary, home secretary, education secretary, Inspector General of Police (IGP), BRTA chairman, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner and deputy commissioner (traffic) have been made respondents to the rule. One cannot help but wonder if other important, influential persons who have also gone on the wrong side may be asked to respond too.
The HC has asked the authorities to explain why they should not be directed to stop plying of vehicles on the wrong side of roads in Dhaka city. We don't know how far this will go and whether this practice that is in complete violation of traffic laws will stop after this. In fact, even on Thursday (May 5) many of us 'lesser mortals' had to witness at least three 'official' vehicles going on the wrong side of the VIP road.
One cannot give up hope though, considering that the HC has been able to do many things that no other ordinary mortal or institution has done. It has ordered probes into the torture of students at schools, compensation for Jihad, the little boy who lost his life when he fell into an open well, directed the government to recruit around 2,500 people who qualified as assistant teachers of government primary schools in 2012 but were not given the job, asked the authorities to clear lakes and parks from land grabbers, asked the government to get formalin kits that work… the list of good deeds of the HC is very impressive.
Which brings us to the disturbing question of why the HC, is forced to intervene for every little lapse in the system? It is like a mother having to give timeouts to the children even when they have become grown men and women. People in power are supposed to abide by the laws that they, in fact, help to create or are oath bound to uphold. So is it a lack of maturity that makes some of them act so bratty?
Even if these ridiculously important persons (RIPs) continue to get away with their arrogant street manners, at least somebody has had the gumption to try and make them accountable. At which point you just want to clap your hands and go 'Yippee Yay!'.
The writer is Deputy Editor, Editorial & Op-ed, The Daily Star.