Omar Jalal: When the implementation of the Road Transportation Act, 2018 is already delayed by two weeks due to poor preparations by the authorities, transport owners now want one more month before the law is in full use. On Thursday, Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association (BRTOA) handed a letter to the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, requesting it to halt realisation of fines for traffic rules violation for a month. BRTOA said it needed the time to update vehicle documents. The law, which has harsher punishment for traffic violations, was supposed to take effect on November 1, but the government delayed the implementation for two weeks due to a lack of preparation from the authorities, including the ministry, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and the police. Although the government said it delayed the implementation to raise public awareness on the law and its punishment, there has been no significant campaign to this end. Speaking at a programme on Thursday, Road Transport and Bridge Minister Obaidul Quader said, “Mass campaigns have to be carried out. If we execute the law without raising awareness and taking precautions, it may have a boomerang effect.” Following student demonstrations for road safety, parliament passed the act in September last year with an aim to bring discipline in the transport sector. On October 22, the authorities issued a gazette stating that the law would come into effect from November 1, replacing the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983. According to the new law, if anybody causes accident by reckless and negligent driving, and kills or injures someone severely, the person will face a maximum sentence of five years in jail or a fine of Taka 5 lakh or both. Earlier, the punishment was three years’ imprisonment. The new law also hands hefty fines for violation of traffic rules.
OWNERS SEEK MORE TIME
Asked about the letter, Khondaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the transport owner’s association, said many vehicle owners across the country need time to update documents. Following requests, the BRTA on many occasions in the past exempted the owners from paying various dues, but this time it seemed strict about realising the money. “We wrote the letter addressing the minister and the secretary to the ministry after the vehicle owners requested us to manage them some time,” he told The Daily Star yesterday. “We supported the government decision to enforce the law and now we are seeking one month before the law takes its full course.”
Although the act was passed 13 months ago, the authorities could not formulate its rules, which has been blamed for the delay in the implementation. Mobile courts, run by the BRTA and district administration, could not step in as the law was not incorporated in the schedule of the Mobile Court Act, 2009, said officials concerned. A schedule is a part of an act, often used to spell out in detail how the provisions would be in use.BRTA officials said the home ministry is now supposed to incorporate the law into the mobile court act schedule, but it has not been done yet. Besides, police could not impose any on-the-spot fines for traffic rules violations, as their point of sale (PoS) machines, providing instant challan, were not updated with the new law. Other relevant documents were also unavailable. Police may need one more month to be ready to fully enforce the law, said one of its officials, wishing not to be named. On Thursday, Obaidul Quader said he hoped that framing of the rules would be completed within next week, but two BRTA officials involved in rules framing said it was not possible. In May, the BRTA submitted a draft of rules for the act and the Road Transport and Highway Division formed a 10-member committee, led by its Additional Secretary Abdul Malek, to scrutinise the rules. However, the committee decided to make the rules afresh as the draft had many inconsistencies, said BRTA officials. Malek on October 23 had told this newspaper “I think we have been able to complete 50 percent of our job.” A member of the committee on Thursday said they had been able to finalise three, out of nine to 10 chapters, of the draft rules. He hoped to finalise another chapter within next week.“These [four] chapters are relevant with the day-to-day functioning of the BRTA, so we are considering to finalise the rules now. It is impossible to complete the full [immediately],” he said seeking anonymity.“It would also take some time as those chapters have to go through vetting at the law ministry,” he said. Against this backdrop, they would have to apply the rules of Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983 in some cases, he said.The member said the Road Transport Act does not, among others, have any definition of minibus. It also does not mention tenure of fitness clearance and route permit, description of traffic signs and signals and driving fees, he said. Besides, the new act has a changed definition of light, medium and heavy vehicles, so the relevant software has to be updated, he said. “So we have no other option but to follow the previous rules until the new ones are framed.”Asked why his ministry could not take necessary preparations, Quader on Thursday indirectly blamed his ill health and protests of transport workers for the delay. “Better late than never. We are now going to implement it and hope the situation will improve,” he said.
The BRTA has published advertisements in some national dailies, informing people about the new law. The advertisements, however, do not elaborate on the changes.Obaidul Quader, Road Transport and Highway Division Secretary Nazrul Islam, and BRTA staff members distributed leaflets in the capital’s Signboard and Manik Mia Avenue areas on November 2 and October 31 respectively.Besides, the BRTA has sent leaflets and stickers to its branch offices for distribution among the public. Police, in some intersections in the capital, were seen trying to inform people about the new law using loudspeakers.But the government initiatives to raise the awareness seem not enough, and it may result in confusions and panic among people, said Ashis Kumar Dey, general secretary of the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways.Besides, involvement of two major components of the transport sector — owners and workers — has not been seen in the process yet, said experts.Transport leaders deny this. Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, said they were carrying out campaigns at bus terminals at many places. He, however, said transport workers were afraid of the tougher punishment that comes with the law, and that it was not possible to ensure road safety keeping them in fear. He said the implementation would have been much easier had the government started the preparations a year ago. Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the transport owner’s association, also said they asked all its 120 units across the country to raise awareness on the issue. On Thursday, BRTA Chairman Kamrul Ahsan claimed that they were carrying out a joint campaign across the country. He claimed to have received a positive response from the people.