Transport system flawed, admits minister

Star roundtable explores reasons behind unsafe roads

The Daily Star June 6, 2012

There is no designated government body that can make coordinated efforts to prevent fatalities on roads despite frequent accidents, said speakers at a discussion yesterday.

Communications and Railway Minister Obaidul Quader, during the discussion held at The Daily Star Centre yesterday, said, “The entire transport system is flawed. The to-do list is extremely long but we don’t have enough funds to address all issues immediately. I am prioritising road maintenance for the time being.”

Referring to over 200 accident-prone spots, he said, “We have started fixing faults at 30 points.” The Accident Research Institute of Buet had identified over 200 accident-prone spots on 10 highways in the country.

Quader emphasised creating mass awareness to reduce road accidents. He said he would accompany different rights activists to the Dhaka-Mawa highway on June 16 to stress this point.

The minister and other rights activists at the roundtable discussion on the theme, “How to stop such murders on the roads”, vowed to be more engaged to this end.

The speakers held responsible reckless driving, flawed traffic system, weak implementation of law and other regulatory systems for the high number of accidents and fatalities on roads.

AKM Fazlur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh, said there was no authority designated to deal with the road accident issue, leaving the situation in a mess. He asked which ministry was responsible — law, home, communication or health?

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) Director (admin) Tapan Kumar Sarker said at the discussion said the National Road Safety Council, with the BRTA chairman as its member secretary, works with 24 government agencies to prevent road mishaps. But BRTA was not legally empowered to take steps against any agency’s negligence, he said.

He said the road safety unit of BRTA did not even have enough staff to maintain regular interactions with the 24 agencies.

According to a study of UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 13,200 people died in road accidents in 2007, Tapan said, adding that due to under reporting by government agencies the real figure was not revealed.

Speakers at the discussion also said even though the number of road accidents was increasing, the government statistics show that around 3,000 die a year on an average.

Film star Ilias Kanchan, chief of Nirapad Sarak Chai, a movement against road accidents, said, “There are no correct statistics on road fatalities. Everyone relies on figures from the police but those are based on complaints. Relatives of victims don’t complain these days as they never get a good judgment or fair treatment.”

Lawyer, TV star and parliament member Tarana Halim in her speech said drivers had the wrong concept that “we are the opponents but the reality is that not only common people fall victim to road accidents but drivers too”.

Rights activist Rokeya Prachi stressed the need for appointment of drivers as per International Labour Organisation rules so that they could be held responsible after ensuring their rights.

Maruf Rahman, national advocacy officer for Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, said, “Of the casualties, pedestrians were victims in 86 percent of cases among which 37 percent were in Dhaka Metropolitan area.”

He said, “In 1947, Bangladesh had some 462kms of tarmac roads which has now increased to 2,70,565kms, but we don’t have an effective road and transportation system to manage this increase.”

Columnist Syed Abul Maksud urged the government to create public awareness in order to inculcate a law-abiding tendency among drivers and other people. He termed the tendency to violate laws law a great problem.

Dr Mustafa Zaman, national professional officer of WHO Bangladesh, said, “We are paying attention to individual issues like drivers, road casualties, traffic systems, etc., but are failing to address the whole transportation system; we need to educate drivers about the traffic system, educate children at school on how to cross the road and increase awareness among people on how to avoid mishaps.”

Sharier Khan, deputy editor (reporting) of The Daily Star, also took part in the proceedings.

Syed Badrul Ahsan, Executive Editor of The Daily Star, moderated the discussion.