Monday, August 2, 2010

Death of a Secretary and a Chairman

The Independent
Monday, 02 August 2010 22:59
Author / Source : M. Serajul Islam
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The death of the Secretary of the Women's Affairs Ministry Razia Begum together with her colleague Siddiqur Rahman, the Chairman of BCSIC, was a tragedy that words cannot describe. They died while going to an event where the Prime Minister was scheduled to deliver an address. Hence the two died on duty, in the cause of the government and the country. They were destined to die the way they died. One can only pray for their departed soul. We cannot; in fact, we do not have anything in our powers to be able to comfort enough the families of the departed but feel some of their pain, knowing that the pain they have in their hearts is a million times more. We can and should however express indignation because the deaths, and many thousands similar ones, that have occurred on our roads, could and should have been avoided. Among the many failures of the governments of Bangladesh over the years, one major one has been the failure to connect Dhaka to the network of districts with roads that could be called safe and civilized. We have what is an apology of roads where fatal accidents for travelers, when they do not happen, do not happen because some superior power wills otherwise. When one travels on these roads and reaches his/her destination, he/she has only the Almighty to thank.

In the network of roads we have for connecting Dhaka and the districts, there are no dividers; with pot holes in every part of the way and with sharp bends. Traffic flows from both sides. On these roads, vehicles of all types ply, from the most sophisticated SUVs and luxury cars to buses and trucks that should have become junks years ago. In between these two extremes, there are vehicles that should be in museums like man drawn carts, bullock carts to rickshaws. That is not all. These so-called inter district roads are littered with local markets and people even use these roads for pedestrian traffic! This dangerous mix makes the inter districts roads an inevitable place for fatal disasters.

Almost all of Bangladesh's inter district roads are very narrow where traffic flows both ways. On such roads, overtaking a vehicle going the same way is extremely hazardous. Notwithstanding this, vehicles merrily do this all the time, with the buses and trucks considering this overtaking a game they love to play on these roads. Invariably while overtaking with such gay abandon, these buses and trucks enad up hitting a car or some other vehicle coming from the opposite side, ending precious lives in the manner one squats flies. Another major reason why these fatal accidents occur on the roads is because authorities allow persons to drive trucks and buses who have little or no sense of what driving is about. The drivers of the buses and trucks are allowed to drive with criminal negligence that will not be allowed anywhere else on planet earth! I must admit ignorance on this fact but I would like to know whether there is any patrolling system by authorities on the inter district roads of Bangladesh to manage traffic. However I am pretty much sure there isn't any because otherwise there would then not have been many buses and trucks plying on the inter district roads. These truck and bus drivers drive their vehicles literally like they are kings on the road. While deaths on the road, like that of the Women Affairs Secretary and her colleague, are extremely sad and occur because of the criminal negligence of drivers, one never hears of even one such driver being brought to court and punished. The message from the law enforcing agencies to the drivers is clear; the law will remain silent and they have no reason to worry in driving as merrily as they want. There is reason to suspect that there is a nexus of corruption in such indulgence to the errant drivers.

There is no doubt a lot of views will be expressed and many will propose suggestions on how to get over such tragedy in discussing the deaths of the Secretary and the Chairman. Most newspapers have already written powerful editorials. However, it is also as certain that such deaths will continue to occur with monotonous regularity because the government that has overlooked this problem all these years does not have any magic wand in its hands to suggest any immediate remedy. It cannot build the roads needed to make the highways safe for driving overnight. But it can build the roads on a priority basis because till the country has broad roads, with dividers and traffic flowing only one way, the roads will remain death traps for anyone who travels on them.

The Government can of course deal with the issue of the errant drivers of the buses and trucks who are literally death squads on the steering wheels, immediately. It is past high time to bring these drivers within the purview of the law. In a country that has death penalties, it is unimaginable how so many thousands of innocent people have been allowed to be slaughtered by these reckless drivers and not one of them has ever come close to going to the gallows. In fact, very few have been punished in any way at all. There is a very sad postscript to the deaths of the senior civil servants that prompted me to write this piece. The Chairman who died with the Secretary had lost two of his daughters just a few months ago to another of these senseless road accidents. At the time of his own death, he was carrying on a move to bring the law into picture to deal with deaths on the roads.

It is now the nation's debt to him (and to the Secretary) to complete the work he started. It is also what the needs of civilized behaviour demands of the government. It is such a shame that a country that prides itself of such glorious achievements as its successful fight to establish its language; its victory over the forces of oppression in 1971 leading to the country's independence, can sit back and watch the inter district roads of the country being turned into slaughter houses given up to the mercy of the reckless drivers of the trucks and the buses and remain silent. Why cannot so many civil societies of the country form a human chain in front of the Police Headquarter and demand that the criminality on the roads is ended immediately? Why can't they do the same and ask of the Ministry of Communication when they will end giving hopes to the people of building modern roads between Dhaka and Chittagong and get down to actual work?

It is indeed sad that in the country human lives have become the most dispensable commodity because no one seems to care when lives are lost in such a meaningless way. Nearly 3000 people have died in road accidents in 2009 and most of these lives could have been saved if the Government had the will to do so. These deaths will be on the conscience of all those who have responsibility for constructing roads; for traffic on the roads and for over-seeing that drivers are not allowed to drive like criminals as they are allowed at present. May the Almighty grant eternal peace to Razia Begum and Siddiqur Rahman.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt


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