Politics of convenience won’t stop extortion, death on roads
THE assurance by the home minister to stop widespread extortion and harassment of transport workers by the police and others on roads and highways and to ensure that drivers involved in fatal accidents are not charged with murder under Section 302 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, which stipulates that the convict ‘shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine’, is intriguing, to say the least. According to a report published in New Age on Thursday, the home minister came up with the assurance during a meeting with transport owners and workers on Wednesday, convened apparently in view of a 72-hour strike called by the Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation, an apex organisation of road transport workers, from September 23, to press home its eight-point demand. If the assurance had been meant to persuade the federation into withdrawing the strike, it certainly was successful as the strike has been postponed. However, questions remain.
Involvement of police and others in harassment and extortion of transport workers on roads and highways has been a common knowledge for years now. In fact, the High Court issued an order on July 28 for the police top brass to explain the legality of extortion by law enforcers and to submit a report on steps taken to stop such acts. Regrettably, however, in what amounts to a deliberate affront to the intelligence of the honourable judges in particular and people in general, the inspector general of police claimed in his report to the court that he knew of only one such incident. As the political boss of the police and other law enforcement agencies, the home minister must have cleared the report before it was submitted to the court, which could only mean that he subscribes to the inspector general’s view. In such circumstances, any independent inquiry into allegations of extortion and harassment of transport workers by the police looks increasingly unlikely. Equally unlikely seems any action against the extorting political leaders and name-only labour organisations; after all, most of them belong to the ruling party.
As for the idea of probe, prosecution and punishment for deaths caused by rash driving, which currently fall under Section 304B and carries a maximum penalty of three-year imprisonment with or without fine, under Section 302, it is the brainchild of a section of civil society that has consistently clamoured for prohibitive punishment as a means to deter reckless driving and ensure road safety. Intriguingly, amidst a furore over frequent road traffic accidents and fatalities caused by reckless driving, the AL-led government itself promised in the early days of its tenure that it would amend the law so as to make ‘killer drivers’ liable to death penalty or life imprisonment, which it has not done so far. Of course, it is debatable whether all deaths caused by rash driving should fall under the purview of Section 302. At the same time, it is generally agreed that punishment for causing death by rash driving, as stipulated under Section 304B, is not prohibitive enough to deter recklessness on the roads and highways. The solution seems to lie somewhere in between, which needs to be arrived at through constructive consultation with relevant quarters. Regrettably, however, the incumbents have thus far appeared unwilling to initiate a process to this end.
In such circumstances, the assurance to the road transport owners and workers may have been yet another attempt by the government to sweet-talk its way out of a tight corner and may not lead to any comprehensive action to prevent either extortion or death on the roads and highways, both of which ultimately affect people at large. Thus, it is imperative that people should step forward, raise their voice and bring the pressure to bear on the incumbents so that they take effective steps to this end, and not resort to politics of convenience.
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