Road Transport strike for law amendment cripples Bangladesh

Dhaka, Nov 20 – Calling an indefinite strike, a section of transport owners and workers across the country have started to put more pressure on the government to amend the newly enforced Road Transport Act.

People suffer as bus workers go on strike and block Dhaka-Mymenisngh highway on Monday morning, Nov 19, 2019. Photo. UNB

The strike called by the Bangladesh Truck-Covered-van Goods Transport Owner-Worker Unity Council goes in force from yesterday morning, with owners and workers in over 20 districts already abstaining from operating buses over the past three days.
Meanwhile, less number of public transports operated in some cities including the capital Dhaka on Wednesday without any announcement from the owners, leaving the commuters suffering.
Many of the sufferers, including commuters, school-goers and patients, waited for vehicles for hours while the others walked to their destination. Hundreds of people were seen waiting for buses in Azimpur, Farmgate, Karwan Bazar, Bangla Motor and Kataban areas.
“I have been waiting for my bus for over an hour but no bus service is available,” said Ayon Biswas, a resident of Azimpur who commutes to his office in Banani every day by bus.
“This is for the third consecutive day I am facing this problem. The transport line I usually avail is taking part in the strike. I now need to pay a lot of money and ride on CNG to reach to my office,” he said.
Some CNG and motorbike drivers, passengers, and pedestrians said that transport workers stopped all types of vehicles, including private cars, auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and motorbikes and turned them away at the bus terminals mentioned above.
“I tried to go to my shop in Farmgate area by a CNG from Mirpur, but at Kallyanpur, my CNG was stopped and I was forced to get out from the CNG,” said Ataus Salehin, a businessman.
Protesting transport workers also had harassed drivers and passengers in various parts of Dhaka during the transport strike. They stopped vehicles and covered their faces with engine oil in Jatrabari, Gabtoli, Gulistan, and Mohakhali Bus terminal areas.
Protesters dragged vehicles onto the road in Jatrabari’s Kajla area and slapped drivers for defying the strike. Even ambulances were not spared.
Passengers also became victims alongside their drivers, as protesters smeared their faces with engine oil. The incidents have drawn criticism from netizens after a number of pictures went viral on social media.
According to BRTA data, 5,407 buses are registered to operate on 168 routes across the capital, and less than 4,000 of those are currently operational. But most owners tend to cancel trips to avoid fines when mobile courts operate
Amid the situation, seven mobile courts of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) filed 35 cases and fined Tk 28,000 under the new act in the capital throughout the day.
On Tuesday, these BRTA mobile courts of filed 79 cases and fined Tk1.19 lakh and on Monday—the first day of the enforcement of the new Act—a total of 10 BRTA mobile courts filed 88 cases with fines to the tune Tk 1, 21,900 for violations of law.
“We will continue this operation despite the strike,” BRTA director of enforcement Masudur Rahman told Journalists.
On these demands, BRTA director Masudur said: “The objective of implementing the new law is not to punish drivers or owners. We want to create an environment where everybody will abide by the law.”
“We suggested the mobile courts to the fine lowest amount in line with the law, but it is not possible to put the law on hold now for amendment,” he added.
He continued: “We do not want to create any panic over the implementation of the new law, and transport owners and workers had promised us several times to assist the government to enforce it.
“But now some groups have gone on strike, which is just a stray incident. However, we are checking the issues of discontents over the law.”
Masudur informed Journalists that the BRTA chairman Kamrul Ahsan on Tuesday held a meeting with a number of transport leaders at the authority’s Mirpur office. However, no representative from the Goods Transport Owner-Worker Unity Council attended. No solution from this meeting came either.
The truck and goods transport owners announced the strike and nine-point charter of demands from a press briefing in the capital’s Tejgaon Truck Terminal earlier on Tuesday.
Hazi Mohammad Tofazzal Hossain Majumder, the president of Bangladesh Truck-Covered-Van Owners Association, told Journalists that the government should postpone the new law by issuing an executive order and then they should take steps to amend it so that everyone’s interest was protected.
Asked why the owners took the decision, he said: “There is a huge crisis of skilled drivers with valid driving licenses. More than 50 percent drivers have no licenses against five million registered vehicles,” he said. – Staff Reporter