Ilias Kanchan: No one should surrender to any pressure
Ilias Kanchan is the voice who has been demanding safer roads for around three decades. The national film award winning actor launched his road safety movement on 1 December, 1993 after his wife, Jahanara Kanchan, died in a road accident on her way to Kanchan’s shooting. Since then, he has been working to improve the road safety situation in the country. Bangladesh observes 22 November, the day of Jahanara Kanchan’s death, as the National Safe Road Day.
Ilias Kanchan’s movement, Nirapad Sarak Chai, has now become a national one. The role of his organisation has been lauded at the United Nations, too. In recognition, the road safety campaigner has been awarded the second highest civilian award of Bangladesh, Ekushey Padak.
The organisations of transport owners and workers, however, have been opposing Ilias Kanchan’s movement. He was targeted by a quarter of the transport workers recently seeking cancellation of the newly enforced Road Transport Act. In this backdrop, Prothom Alo talked to him regarding the fate of the law.
Prothom Alo: Just like the past, you have once again become a target of the transport owners and workers. They also spread propaganda against you on social media.
Ilias Kanchan: The transport workers, in general, do not spread propaganda against me. Rather, a vested quarter who are against the newly enforced act, are doing this. The act they are fighting against was not passed by me, but by the parliament. The prime minister, herself, spoke strongly in support of the act in parliament.
Prothom Alo: Despite so, why is such propaganda against you?
Ilias Kanchan: I think this is not only a matter of propaganda against me. Actually, they are disrespecting parliament which has passed the law. They have always stood against any government that tried to implement an act to discipline the roads. The safe road movement I have been staging is not against the transport workers. Security will be ensured for the transport workers too along with the passengers and pedestrians if the roads become safe. The deadly road accident that took place on the Dhaka-Munshiganj Highway on Friday killed the driver of the microbus, too, among others. The so called workers’ leaders have been misleading the general workers. They are inciting them against me. I have talked to the workers before. I took initiative to train them, but they suddenly declared me unwanted.
Prothom Alo: Why?
Ilias Kanchan: This quarter carried out various activities against me in 2012 when we staged demonstrations seeking a law for safer roads. If the government then had taken steps against them they would not go too far. I have been working for the people of the country for a long time. I did not spend time in the film industry, rather gave it for road safety. It’s unfortunate when someone makes a bad remark over this or declares me unwanted.
Prothom Alo: Transport workers have said the law was passed only for punishing them.
Ilias Kanchan: The aim of the act is not punishment. If everyone abides by the law, discipline will be restored on the roads. If discipline is there, what’s the fear for fines? I cannot understand why the anarchy was created without changing ourselves, issuing proper licenses, getting right skills, registering vehicles or not taking their fitness clearances.
Prothom Alo: The Road Transport Act was supposed to be implemented since 1 November, but the government took two more weeks to enforce it. The transport owners and workers went on an undeclared strike on 20 November when the government was supposed to enforce the new law and you became their target.
Ilias Kanchan: I have no clash with either the transport owners or the workers. Several leaders of the workers’ association instigated the workers against me. Such propagandas were spread in 2012 too when the government took initiative to introduce the road transport act. They must understand that the movement is not against any owners or workers. We have been staging the movement demanding safer roads. If the road is safe, the workers along with the people will remain safe.
Prothom Alo: Has the implementation of the law come to a halt due to the strike of the transport owners and workers?
Ilias Kanchan: The act was passed in August last year in parliament. There was a backdrop of the students’ safer road movement then. The president approved the law in October. If the government would implement it just after that, the situation would not complicate this much. The government could have solved any problem arisen following the implementation. But, in November, various activities were carried out on the roads in the name of transport workers’ organisations. The drivers were made to get off their buses and were smeared in tar. The government retreated due to the pressure of the transport owners and workers. A working committee was formed including the home minister, law minister and railway minister in January to introduce a policy. The policy has not even come to the fore.
Prothom Alo: Media reports say negotiations were made on several issues in the meeting between home minister Asaduzzaman Khan and transport workers and leaders. These include bus and truck drivers were being permitted to use their existing licenses till 30 June 2020. They will have to receive new licenses from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). The issue of fines have been sent to the road, transport and bridges ministry for a review.
Ilias Kanchan: When the government declared that it would implement the law, the home minister and the road transport and bridges ministers had said that no one would be spared regarding the implementation of the law. Later they changed their stand when the transport owners and workers went on strike and stopped plying of vehicles at various places. Such retreat of the government facing pressure would not allow the implementation of any law. This is the most concerning. A law passed by the parliament cannot be modified by a declaration from outside. If a law is to be amended, it must be done through the parliament. The government should have taken initiatives to implement the law as soon as it was passed. If any problems would occur during the implementation, the remedy could be sought out.
Prothom Alo: One of the major objections of the workers is the issue of fine. How logical is it that anyone driving a vehicle without license has to pay Tk 500,000?
Ilias Kanchan: As far as I know, the police will not fine for driving a license-free vehicle. An executive magistrate will do that. The money of the fine would not go to the police or in the government treasury, as they said, rather it would go to the trusty board supposed to be formed for the road accident victims.
Prothom Alo: What is the solution then? Will the act be implemented by turns?
Ilias Kanchan: Proper implementation of the law is the solution. The way has been shown in the 111 recommendations made by the task force. It was proposed that the road management should be brought under CCTV surveillance. So if the law is not violated, fearing of punishment is baseless. Those violating the law must be punished. One must not succumb to any pressure either from the owners or from the workers. The law must be implemented. Legal steps must be taken if anyone holds the people at stake, embarrass the government in order to prevent the implementation of the law.
Prothom Alo: Thank you.
Ilias Kanchan: Thank you, too.
*This interview, appearing in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.