H M Munir
The rowdy transport workers, who have apparently turned monsters, are out on the streets once again, taking hostage the entire nation in a mission to satisfy their narrow group interest.
This time around the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation called a two-day strike to force the government to bring amendments to the recently passed Road Transport Act-2018.
However, the extent of transgression to which the unruly transport workers came down this time has gone past many of the previous instances. The programme supposed to end this morning, it seemed, was a clear move aimed at creating anarchy in the country and have their demands met.
They abstained from taking out the vehicles they operated and created obstructions on roads so that others who were not supporting their call for strike also cannot bring out their vehicles. We came across such experience on earlier occasions of transport strike.
What is unprecedented as well as shocking is that this time the transport workers, in many areas, resorted to assaulting and humiliating others who defied their strike.
They harassed the drivers and staff of whatever limited number of public transports were taken out on the streets. The drivers of private transports, rickshawpullers, general commuters on board of any means of transportation and even emergency services like ambulance were not left either.
On various points of the capital city and in many parts of the country drivers and passengers have had to face humiliation in the hands of transport workers supporting the strike. The rowdy supporters of the strike physically assaulted them and had their faces daubed with engine oil. School-going girls also have had to endure such humiliation. It is also reported that a 7-day-old baby girl died on an ambulance on way to hospital from Moulvibazar to Sylhet after transport workers during their strike on Sunday held the vehicle for around an hour and a half.
Let us agree without going into the discussion about the validity of the demand of the transport workers that they have the constitutional right to call programmes like work abstention in protest of any government measure relating to their interest. But at the same time we will also have to acknowledge that whether or not anyone would go with their decision depends entirely on the wish of that particular individual. This is also his/her constitutional right. In no way any particular individual or group or community can forcefully compel others to support their programme. This is a clear breach of law.
But it is most annoying to note that in many places, it is reported, such defiance of the law of the land had taken place in front of law enforcement officials but they did not take any step against the law breakers.
In this context a question may naturally arise in every conscious mind. This is: Are these vested groups more powerful than the State? This question appears to be very logical against the backdrop that on various previous occasions the government yielded to the pressure created on it by the owners and staff of public transports, even if their demands were often unlawful.
Who can forget what happened when the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority started a drive to stop illegal seating service and gate-lock service in Dhaka’s public buses? The government at first postponed the drive for fifteen days and then had to abandon it in the face of pressure created by the transport owners and workers. We also saw some powerful ministers informing people that the transport owners were so influential that the government could hardly implement any policy that would go against their interest.
Since they have been, so far, successful in protecting their unethical narrow group interests by applying this evil tactic, they have kept doing this despite the fact that the law of the land sternly prohibits this kind of activities. According to the law, if transport owners suspend their services without any valid reason and thereby cause sufferings for the people, the relevant government authority can go to the extent of cancelling the route permit and suspending registration of their companies. It is a pity that, notwithstanding the law, the rule is violated every now and then, with punitive action against the violators being few and far between.
It remains to be seen what the government does or says in light of the on-going protest of the transport workers. If it makes the mistake of capitulating to the transport workers or shows signs of agreeing to amend the law the transport workers are up in arms against, it will again send a very bad signal to the country and such unjust transport strike will be enforced again and again in future.
But, we do not think that anyone can be more powerful than the State. We do not want to believe it either that the government pays importance to the narrow interest of any particular community overlooking the greater interest of the general citizens.
We feel the administration will take every necessary measure to keep the law and order situation in good shape and protect the constitutional rights of the citizens. The ones who take the public life into hostage to serve ones’ own purposes must be dealt with sternly. No consideration should hold back the State from going tough on them.