Roads rife with extortion and disorder

Roads rife with extortion and disorder

Anowar Hossain | Prothom Alo  Aug 25, 2019

Three-wheelers along with long route vehicles are running on the highways. These three-wheelers are banned from plying on highways. This photo is taken from Nawapara area of Bagura-Rangpur highways. Prothom Alo File PhotoExtortion in the name of toll collection has created disorder on the country’s roads and highways, but the committee led by former shipping minister Shahjahan Khan has not made any recommendations resolve the situation, stakeholders have said.

Almost all the 111 recommendations recently submitted to the road transport and bridges ministry are old and already contained in the Motor Vehicle Act. The recommendations are gathering dust as the government has not taken any initiative to implement them.

Officials said there have been no recommendations for the implementation of the Road Transport Act.

When asked why there was no recommendation about extortion, the committee chief Shahjahan Khan said extortion is a different problem.

He said there were many factors involved in this extortion, including the transport owners, workers, police and local politics, adding the recommendation about extortion would be made in another report in a different manner.

About the Road Transport Act, Shahjahan Khan said three ministers were working on it. “So we have avoided it in our recommendations,” he said.

At a meeting of the National Road Security Council (NRSC) in February this year, a 22-member committee led by Shahjahan Khan was formed to restore order on roads and tackle road accidents.

On Thursday, the committee handed over a set of recommendations to the road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader who is also the chief of NRSC.

The minister said a taskforce would be formed to implement the recommendations.

Prothom Alo investigations found extortion of over Tk 10 billion in the transport sector a year.

According to a report of the highway police, a total of Tk 870 million is annually extorted from vehicles plying on the highway.

Extortion has been identified as the main reason behind disorder on the roads while reckless driving causes deaths.

Sources said the transport owners and workers associations are behind the extortion.

The government formulated a new Road Transport Act after students took to the streets demanding safe roads last year. In the act, the punishment and fines to be imposed on drivers have been increased for accidents.

Transport owners and workers’ associations have been opposing the implementation of this act.

Under their pressure, the government is now mulling over relaxing the act.

Quarters aware of the 22-member committee’s activities, said matters which go against the interests of the owners and workers have been avoided. Emphasis has been given on the construction of infrastructure and creating awareness, they said.

Extortion in different forms in transport sector

Prothom Alo investigations found three types of extortion in the transport sector. These are: toll collection in the name of owners and workers’ associations, collection of toll by owners’ associations for allowing buses and minibuses on specific routes, and toll collection in the name of waybills or to get a pass to run a bus in the capital and its surroundings under a specific company.

Around Tk 70 is collected daily from a bus or a truck in the name of owner and worker associations. About Tk 200 million was collected every day from about 275,000 buses, minibuses, trucks and covered vans across the country.

An investor has to become a member of the association of owners ahead of operating a bus in the capital as well as across the country. He or she has to pay anything from Tk 200,000 to two million taka. Before getting approval from BRTA, an investor has to pay a significant sum to the association of bus owners.

Sources at BRTA said for this at least 30 to 40 percent of the buses and minibuses are a dilapidated condition across the country. Owners cannot operate new buses and trucks. The committee led by Shahjahan Khan has recommended new buses and trucks instead of old ones.

Most of the buses in Dhaka and its surroundings are operated under specific companies. Ruling party influential leaders first open a company. Different owners operate their bus service under the name of that company. They have to pay around Tk 700 to 1000 per bus. About Tk 10 million is collected every day in this way. Around 8,000 buses are operated in Dhaka.

Owners hand over their buses to drivers and their assistants on contract to earn more as the owners have to pay huge amount in toll.

The drivers have to engage in unhealthy competition for additional passengers and income. This is the main obstacle to the order in the transport sector and this is identified as the main cause of road accidents.

Road Transport Act ignored

People are dying on roads every day. Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association actively advocates road safety. According to the organisation, a total of 7,221 people have been killed in road accidents in 2018. Accident Research Institute (ARI) of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) carries out studies on road accidents based on information provided by police. According to their study, some 53 per cent accidents take place due to excessive speed while 37 per cent accidents due to distraction of the drivers. So 90 per cent accidents take place due to reckless mind of drivers and speed. For this different organisations have been demanding increased punishment for drivers who commit accidents.

Transport expert professor Shamsul Haque was in the committee led by Shajahan Khan.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said it requires political commitment for implementation whatever recommendations are made.

The ownership system has to be broken first and this will stop collection of toll by the leaders of the transport owners.

Shamsul Haque said the transport has to be established as a service. Drivers have to be recruited.

If this can be done, the power of labour leaders will be curbed, he noted.

Shamsul Haque said different beneficiary groups have been created in the transport sector. The groups include muscle power, politics and armed cadres.

Some previous recommendations gather dust

In 2011, a committee led by the then Jahangirnagar University vice chancellor Anwar Hossain was formed by NRSC. The committee made some 86 recommendations in 2012. No special initiative was taken to implement these recommendations.

In 1982, during the rule of autocrat HM Ershad, another committee made recommendations on the transport sector.

The committee led by Shahjahan Khan prepared some 111 recommendations adding some new matters and compiling the above mentioned two recommendations.

In 2017, a committee led by BRTA director Sheikh Mahbub E Rabbani was formed to restore discipline on public transport in Dhaka. The committee made six recommendations and 22 observations.

Sources said these recommendations were not implemented. These are in the latest recommendations.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina gave five guidelines to prevent road accidents in June last year. Of the guidelines, the drivers of buses and trucks on long routes have to take rest and alternative drivers have to be given after eight hours. But these recommendations have not been implemented yet.
This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.

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