Road mishaps and deaths: Who are actually responsible?
Mohammad Ali Sattar, Columnist and Biographer.
I observe with great despondency, that the death of the students due to usual mad race by the mindless drivers of minibuses, has led this country into a multifaceted crisis.
Initially it was an outburst of the anguished fellow students who were witness to gruesome death of their mates under the wheels of these killer busses.
It was suddenly a noisy but genuine and ‘age-old’ demand for safe roads – a very real claim –an unsafe road is perilous for all. Following the tragic accident in front of the Ramizuddin College the city gradually turned into a horrific ground of conflict between the students, vigilantes, large number of non-descript, police, Rab and bands of street scamps. Suddenly, it was a free for all circumstances all around the city.
We had more deaths and scores of injuries, arrests and convictions during this hara-kiri. Traffic system vanished (actually there was never a system in place). Parties involved in these clashes fought pitched battles, sometimes winning and at times retreating to reemerge with renewed vigor-a common sight over the last 40 years.
In the process the misery of the people multiplied. As if there was no one to lodge our grievances to. The busses went off the streets, throwing us in the rugged hands of the rickshaw pullers, auto three wheelers, and a few taxi and motor bike services. The office goers were brutally treated by all these carrier predators.
Fares that they started charging is not only exorbitant, it was something much more. It was criminal. The gullible middle and lower class were sucked out to the last. Pity, the people at large are in the hands of all service and product sellers. From the small street vendor to the fish trader to the air cooled eating houses.
And there were the usual invectives traded among the government and opposition political parties. Confusing blame game wore a new look. Talk shows on the TV channels pulled in the transport leaders and experts to deliberate on the issues.
And the government was quick to enact law with some new phrasings to ensure ‘safe roads’ and justice to the victims and to reign in the unruly drivers.
What surprised us is that the new law doesn’t mention any measures against the owners of the transport companies. In fact, the government and the concerned departments must strike at the root of all these tragic deaths and accidents.
The origin of the crisis:
It is straightforward. The owners (aided by concerned ministers), BRTA authorities and traffic police on duty are the three main causes of this crisis. Transport workers play the second fiddle.
Why are the three parties responsible for the transport sector crisis?
The answer is not far to seek. The owners have, over the years, developed a system to remain completely risk free and make the maximum profit in the business.
They get the busses in the plying routes through necessary formalities (often adopting unfair means). By now we know that the licensing authorities (BRTA) play a dubious role in assisting the applicants. This body has become a bane for all stakeholders in business.
Corrupt practices that they allegedly carry out are mostly relating to giving out clearance to faulty or wrong vehicles and issue driving licenses to unqualified and fake drivers who eventually poses danger to our lives in the streets or highways.
The owners have a typical profit making machinations. Unlike olden days, they now lease out the vehicle to a team of contractors (drivers and helpers) on strict financial terms.
They fix up an amount that they must receive everyday from the contractors. By determining a fix amount, they actually allow the drivers and helpers to run the vehicle at their sweet will.
The contractors hit the road with only one aim, that is, to make maximum number of trips from and to the destination. Because they have to meet the owners demand before they make some for themselves.
Therefore they go mad to take highest number of trips. In the process, there is this unhealthy and most criminal competition between the plying busses.
They turn bad to worse while running the vehicle. They commit all kinds of contravention – from dodging traffic signals, to nerve shattering speeding and over taking to unpardonable accidents causing tragic deaths and maiming of the hapless. They go on doing the acts without any remorse, whatsoever.
The other unlawful practice carried by the transport owners and workers is the self produced fare chart.
Whereas the government has fixed fares per kilometer for busses, this has never been practiced or abided by. Rather, this powerful group bins the government orders and fix up their own fare charging way higher than any reasonable ground. If the government has decided on taka two per kilometer, they will charge ten taka.
To justify their high fare, the unscrupulous owners have devised new ways of naming the services. They term it, as sitting service, express service, etc., it doesn’t end here. The transport workers are so crude and ruthless with the commuters that it looks like they are taking us for a ‘free ride’. They thrive on our money but don’t give a damn to our standing let alone a comfortable journey.
They resort to all kinds of mistreatment, use abusive words and make menacing gestures towards the passengers. They make open threats to those who ‘dare’ to challenge them on any issue. Once the driver was heard saying ‘imagine the guts of the guy -how does he dare talk to my helper like that’?
And on the slightest pretext they (owners and workers) resort to strikes reducing the entire road service into a standstill causing untold suffering to the commuters.
So it’s all round oppression by the owners and drivers/helpers on the passengers and the cops on duty.
On the one hand there is no monitoring done on the unfair fares taken from the passengers, on the other, the dangerous driving and criminal acts of the drivers are not challenged by the on duty cops. Rather, they enjoy extra ‘tips’ from these unruly drivers of the unfit vehicles.
The way out:
Simple. The owners must forgo making undue profits by making up their own fare chart. This is illegal. They must charge according to the government sanctioned fares.
Leasing out system must be abrogated immediately. The drivers and workers will be salaried employee of the transport company/ owner. That ought to be the rule.
BRTA should be disciplined in the real sense of term. Corrupt officials must be immediately dismissed with no benefits at all. This office must come under strict vigilance by a superior authority.
The on duty traffic cops must also be brought under certain rules where in they will be made answerable if they become party to traffic rule violation cases. Many truant cops out in the streets enjoy the freedom of doing things at their sweet will.
So it’s the owners, BRTA and cops. Address them and things will fall in the right place. Transport workers play the second fiddle but are the principle players of ground crisis – religiously backed up by powerful ministers – who are union leaders as well.