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Jack Of All Trades

Politicisation of students' safe road movement

Published : Wednesday, 8 August, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1191

Bangladesh is poised to resolve a perennial problem in the transport sector, which has been owned and operated by politicians and their politically motivated employees since the independence of the country 47 years ago.

With the change of the government the leadership in the transport sector generally switches over to the transport owners loyal to the ruling party. Similarly pro ruling party trade union leaders become the guardians of the transport workers.

During the military rules and quasi democracy in the country since late 1975 to December 1990, affluent sycophants of the ruling coterie also dominated the transport sector and their lackeys gave leadership to the transport workers.

As the leaders and activists dominated the transport sector, the law enforcing agencies, especially the traffic police never dared to implement traffic laws to bring order in the sector, which gradually turned uncontrolled, messy and reckless.

Their unabated unruly behaviour took passengers and pedestrians hostage as they continued deadly rough driving in the city streets and the highways, disembarking and embarking passenger in the middle of the city streets, resulting in deaths of many.

Late veteran journalist Jaglul Ahmed Chowdhury also fell a tragic victim of such activities, as he was forced to disembark a bus on the middle of the road near Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel in Dhaka in the evening of November 29, 2014.

The cabinet on Monday approved a draft law that proposed a maximum punishment of five years of imprisonment for causing death to a person in reckless driving. The approval again proved the government was trying to protect the careless drivers, who according to United Nations kill around 20,000 people in road accidents across Bangladesh.

It may be mentioned here that 33 three years ago, the maximum punishment for death for reckless and negligent driving was a jail term of seven years. But in the face of truck workers' protests in 1985, the government of military ruler Ershad reduced the term of imprisonment to three years by amending the Penal Code, which exists till today.

The government was reluctant to revive the maximum punishment of seven years used to be given for killing people in reckless driving, fearing a reprisal from the powerful and unruly transport sector owned and manned by mostly ruling party leaders and activists.

The cabinet however, extended the punishment by two years of jail term from the existing three years for killing people by reckless driving. But it is believed that the new draft traffic law won't satisfy the agitating students, who ruled the streets and implemented traffic law strictly from July 30 to August 4 in different streets in the capital.  The protesting students also blocked different city intersections and spots on the highways across the country.

However, the students' vigilance was withdrawn gradually as violence erupted at different spots in the capital on Saturday and Sunday.
The government last week decided to place the draft act before the cabinet amid student agitation for road safety following the death of two college students in the capital on July 29.

During the peaceful students' upsurge against traffic mismanagement and failure of the traffic polices, mostly schools students, tried to bring discipline in the streets, detecting unlicensed drivers and unfit vehicles. They even detected high military and police officials driven by unlicensed drivers. They obstructed and advised at least two senior ministers not to break traffic rules driving through the wrong side of the city street.

Despite chaos in the street and problems in movement, city dwellers lent support to the peaceful actions of the protesting students. But the peaceful protests turned violent on Saturday at Jigatola and Science Lab areas, as some youths attacked protesters and in retaliation a section of agitating students tried to storm Awami League office at Dhanmandi.

Meanwhile rumours were rife riding on the Facebook, which is often branded by the critics as Fakebook, that four dead bodies were hidden at the Awami League office after killing protesting students. It was also rumoured that some girl students were also molested by Awami League (AL) activists. However after a physical check inside AL office with police the protest leaders found there was nothing in the AL office.

However, after the rumours, the students protests decreased significantly as most of the students understood that they have been entrapped in a political quagmire, and the consequences may be serious and fatal.

In a bid to politicize the students protest, more violence erupted at The Dhaka University, the North South University and the East West University on Monday. The clashes erupted as students brought out processions demanding safe roads and protesting against death of the students under the wheels of a bus on the Airport road on July 29.

On Sunday alleged ruling party men attacked journalists for the second straight day and about a dozen photojournalists and reporters came under attack at different places of the capital. Five photographers were mauled and their gears were either damaged or snatched away. On Monday journalists held rally protesting against attack.

However, the ruling party denied that its activists were responsible for the attacks on the journalists and claimed that anti-government parties who orchestrated attacks on AL office were behind the attacks.

Meanwhile the party alleged that a deep conspiracy was being hatched to destabilise the country as the motorcade of US Ambassador to Bangladesh Mercia Bernicat was attacked at the capital's Mohammadpur area on Saturday night.

The ruling party said anti-government elements attacked the motorcade as the Ambassador was returning home without any police protection after attending a meeting at the house of Shusashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar. However, none was hurt in the attack. Police said they did not give her protection as the US Ambassador did not inform police about her programme at Mohammadpur. Police said she was not supposed to travel in such place without informing police.

Meanwhile AL started smelling rat in all these bizarre incidents including rumours on killing and concealing bodies of four people at AL office, attacks on journalists and on the motorcade of US Ambassador and her unannounced night trip to Mohammadpur.

However, it is largely believed that vested quarter tried to fish in the troubled water created in the wake of the agitation of students demanding safe roads. But the prompt wisdom of police to search the AL office with protest leaders helped douse a probable inferno out of serious rumours.

However, the anger of protesters is yet to pacify as the man believed to be the patron of unruly transport owners and workers is still in good shape even after conceiving a mild scolding from the Prime Minister who reportedly asked him not to utter impolitic words and laugh without judging the situation.

The author is Business Editor, The Daily Observer



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