Dhaka, November 21: Goods transport strike, which has been crippling public life for last couple of days, was postponed late last night (Wednesday) after hours of talks with the government high-ups. The decision to call off the strike was taken as the government promised to meet the ‘reasonable’ demands of the owners and workers of truck and covered vans.
The government and the strikers made the announcement after a long meeting at Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal’s residence in Dhanmondi of the capital starting from 9pm.
The Bangladesh Truck Covered-van Goods Transport Owners Workers Unity Council started the strike on Wednesday morning over nine demands, including amendments to the Road Transport Act, which came into effect earlier this month with harsher punishment for drivers for violation of traffic rules and road traffic accidents.
Asaduzzaman had held a meeting with the protesters on Tuesday night, but they decided to press on with their programme as the negotiations failed.
Talking to the media after the second meeting at 1am on Thursday, the minister said that he assured the protesters of accepting their ‘reasonable’ demands. Also, he gave them a June 30, 2020 deadline to meet certain conditions like renewal of licences.
Meanwhile, fewer number of public transports operated in some cities, including the capital, yesterday due to the ongoing strike, putting commuters in severe inconvenience. A section of transport owners and workers stopped work for the third consecutive day to put more pressure on the government to amend the newly enforced Road Transport Act.
Commuters, schoolgoers, and patients waited for vehicles for hours. while others walked to their destination. Hundreds of people waited for buses in Azimpur, Farmgate, Karwan Bazar, Bangla Motor, and Kataban areas. “I’ve been waiting for a bus for over an hour, but no bus service was available,” said Ayon Biswas, a resident of Azimpur, who goes to his office in Banani everyday by bus.
“This is for the third consecutive day I am facing this problem. I have to pay a lot of money and ride on CNG-run vehicles to reach my office,” he added.
Some CNG and motorbike drivers, passengers, and pedestrians said transport workers stopped all types of vehicles, including private cars, auto-rickshaws, rickshaws, and motorbikes, and turned them away at the bus terminals. “I tried to go to my shop at Farmgate area by a CNG from Mirpur. But at Kallyanpur, the CNG was stopped. I was forced to come out of the vehicle,” said Ataus Salehin, a businessman.
The protesting transport workers also harassed drivers and passengers in various parts of the capital during the strike. They stopped vehicles and smeared their faces with engine oil in Jatrabari, Gabtoli, Gulistan, and Mohakhali Bus terminal areas.
They dragged vehicles onto the road in Jatrabari’s Kajla area and slapped drivers for defying the strike. Even ambulances were not spared. Passengers also became victims alongside their drivers as protesters smeared their faces with engine oil. The incidents drew flak from netizens after a number of pictures went viral on social media.
According to BRTA data, 5,407 buses are registered to operate on 168 routes across the capital. Less than 4,000 of them are currently operational. Meanwhile, seven mobile courts of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) filed 35 cases and fined Tk.28,000 under the new act in the capital throughout the day. On Tuesday, these BRTA mobile courts filed 79 cases and fined Tk 1.19 lakh.
On Monday, the first day of the enforcement of the new Act, a total of 10 BRTA mobile courts filed 88 cases with fines to the tune of Tk. 1, 21,900 for violation of law.
“We’ll continue the operation despite the strike,” BRTA director of enforcement Masudur Rahman told The Independent. Speaking on their demands, Masudur said: “The objective of implementing the new law is not to punish drivers or owners. We’d like to create an environment where everybody will abide by the law.”
“We suggested mobile courts to fine the lowest amount in line with the law, but it’s not possible to put the law on hold for amendment,” he also said. “We don’t want to create any panic over the implementation of the new law,” he added.