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Back to square one

Published : Wednesday, 15 August, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 320

Shahriar Feroze

Shahriar Feroze

This is exactly what was expected from this writer's end. Almost a fortnight of organised chaos at our streets, fearless student protests, countrywide condemnation of road accidents, commuters facing an indefinite dilemma, and Dhaka's traffic situation is back to square one.  
Rampant traffic violations by our motorbikes, private cars and rickshaws have returned and so have the agonizing jams. And this is exactly what we actually are collectively as a nation -- a nation that repeatedly fails to draw lessons from past mistakes and failures. However, thanks to my long-distance walking habit I don't have to endure more than half of the shortcomings erupting out of Dhaka's despicable traffic jams. In an unpredictable city as Dhaka, these days I try my best to commute as less possible. Not to mention, erratic jams have also isolated me to a larger extent from many of my near and dear ones.

The rest of the commuters are, however, do not fall under my unusual category. Sufferings have resumed for them. The focus is exactly on this point, where our corrupt and indifferent politicians are not the only ones to blame, where our police and traffic sergeants are not the major culprits, and where a flawed and manual traffic system is not the key reason. The blame will have to be shouldered by all. All together, drivers, rickshaw pullers, policy makers, law enforcers to motor cyclists do not actually care the value of discipline while respecting the rules of the roads.

The famed late professor, scholar, academic and intellectual, Abdur Razzaq is reported to have said to the late eminent writer Ahmed Sofa, "you can evaluate a people by what they read and eat".  This writer, however, dares to differ to his statement. He would rather say, "You can evaluate a people by how systematically it commutes in its roads, and how methodically it maintains rules of the roads."

Frankly speaking, if you wish to experience how we are doing as a nation, hit the roads, and you will have a first-hand experience of it.  It's not a purely metaphorical statement, it's the truth. And the shoddier truth is -- the traffic situation in the coming days will get even worse in Dhaka and other major cities of the country.  The recent rebellion staged by our school students had effectively communicated the horrible traffic and road conditions of Bangladesh to the rest of the world. Though it was a failed attempt to pick up the stagnant traffic situation, but their united rebellion had delivered a crucial message.

The rot is too serious and has taken place too deeper inside the national psyche.  Traffic corruption in the streets, violating traffic rules, obtaining illegal driving licences have become a norm of the day in Bangladesh. Deceit, deception and double-dealing in our roads have been institutionalised over the past decades at such length -- now it has become a big challenge to get rid of it. 

I often compare this challenge with our 'unofficially established' illegal hawkers and extortion trade. Nevertheless, don't take me as a pessimist; I am only an optimist when I experience signs of optimism. Similar to all illegitimate business and trade our traffic system also has a dark economy of bribery and sleaze, and this cannot be uprooted overnight. Sadly, countless law enforcers and traffic sergeants have been drawing kick-backs in smaller and bigger amounts and they have in some way 'legalised' the malpractice.      

That said -- the government has a colossal challenge at hand which is far more difficult to comprehend. The Rana Plaza disaster was an outrageous eye-opener for a complete overhauling of our RMG industry. Repeated years of power shortage and frequent load shedding throughout the country had somewhat forced the government to explore all avenues for ensuring unimpeded power supply, though at a higher cost. Nevertheless, the problem with our pitiable roads and deteriorating traffic conditions is openly attached to our self-esteem as a people of an independent and sovereign nation.

This writer is more than unwilling to hold any individual stakeholder to be responsible for our traffic woes. The woes have been created together and they have to be solved together. The problem -- where is the point to begin and who should initiate the repairing task? The traffic week has unquestionably been a missed opportunity. Some say it should begin with the Bangladesh Road transport Authority (BRTA), some say by upgrading our manual traffic control mechanism while some say by adding an extra workforce to the traffic police. A new law is also about to be introduced.

The point, however, the sequential order for implementing a well-thought strategy is still missing. Amid a spree of recommendations, experts' opinions and remedial measures there is no absolute authority for realising future plans in the priority order. Commitment and coordination between government ministries are still absent. And the school students' fleeting countrywide protests now appears to be a mere distraction. The political truth regarding our worsening traffic conditions, however, would have been the same if BNP was in power instead of Awami League.
The circumstances today have become complex similar to the chicken and egg situation -- what comes first to find a logical and long-term solution?

We are back to square one, in terms of, finding a permanent and effective traffic solution. We are back because there is no unity, dialogue and agreement between any of the authorities concerned. It is around 7 in the evening. The two opposite ends of the Ramna Park show unimaginable traffic congestion on both sides. No worries, this walking journalist will reach his destination precisely on time. He doesn't rely on any form of transport in Dhaka these days. He has mastered the art of brisk-walking of 'how not to get back to square one' in tackling manmade predicaments.

The writer is the Assistant Editor, the Daily Observer

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