Transport workers observed strike on Monday in several districts demanding amendment to certain sections of the Road Transport Act-2018. Although central road transport leaders extended their support for the law, motor workers said they would announce tougher programmes if their demands are not met.
The strike hit the southern parts of the country, including Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jhenaidah and Khulna, hard. Vehicular movement dropped significantly in the districts which remained out of the strike.
Meanwhile, long-haul passengers were confronted with severe problems as inter-district buses were pulled off the roads. The sudden crisis forced them to avail motorized three-wheelers, though those are banned on the highway.
Sanjida Rahman, an admission aspirant to Satkhira Government College, was waiting at Khulna inter-district bus terminal.
"Monday is the last day for admission. My application will be cancelled if I fail to appear at the college today," she said in a choked voice.
Alim Hossain, a policeman, was waiting at the same bus station.
"I must reach Kushtia today for office related work. After coming here, I found that buses are not leaving the terminal," he said, obviously upset.
Like the duo, the strike has forced many inter district passengers in a quandary. They had no option left other than availing motorized three-wheelers to reach their destinations — even by paying double and triple the regular fair.
However, top transport leaders and owners said they were not involved in the protest. They said that they are totally respectful of the law and promised to cooperate with the government to enforce it.
Meanwhile, transport owners have claimed that the motor workers are spontaneously observing the strike.
"If drivers and helpers do not agree to run vehicles, what can we do," they questioned.
"Many drivers are not hitting the roads as they do not have driving documents," said Sheikh Shamsuddin Helal, general secretary of Bogura Motor Workers Union.
"On the flip side, others might have the licenses, but those have not been renewed," he said, adding the new law had left drivers in a state of panic.
"A bus driver earns a maximum of Tk15,000-20,000 per month. How will he pay Tk5 lakh as fine," asked Satkhira transport leader Jahidur Rahman.
Section 105 of the Road Transport Act-2018 says if anybody gets seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle-related accident, the driver will be slapped with a fine of Tk5 lakh or a maximum sentence of five years in jail or both.
It is this section which terrifies drivers.
Uzzal Sheikh had been working as a bus driver for last 24 years. He left driving 10 to 12 days ago and is now planning to set up a small shop.
"The law is anti-people. Driving vehicles will be very tough if it is enforced," said Bogura Truck Owners Association President Abdul Mannan Akhand.
He argued, "Laws are for the betterment of the people. However, this act speaks more of punishment than of betterment."
Md Uzzal, another motor worker of the district, said, "I drive on such a road where three-wheelers, motorized and non-motorized vehicles ply. If any accident happens due to their mistakes, I solely will be the one to face the music."
He commented, "The act will put drivers in trouble."
In the view of Jashore-Narail route bus driver Tipu Sultan, "Accidents do not happen solely because of drivers. Several instances of road mismanagement are also responsible for mishaps. The act does not address those."
General Secretary of Bogura Motor Workers Union Sheikh Shamsuddin Helal said transport workers may go for a tougher movement, such as a total shutdown if the government does not amend some sections of the act.
"The central committee will sit in Dhaka next week. It will likely decide the next course of action," he added.
Meanwhile, Khulna transport leaders have said they will hold meetings regarding the issue on November 21 and 22.
However, influential transport leader Shajahan Khan held out the assurance that the situation would get back to normal in a day or two.
"We told them not to stage protests and cause sufferings to people," he added.
Khandakar Enayetullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, echoed former minister Shajahan and said they were trying to reach a solution through discussions.