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Long-distance buses stay off roads

Transport operators fear attacks despite govt security

Staff Correspondent

A soldier controls traffic while his fellow looks on at Signboard in Dhaka on Dhaka-Chittagong Highway on Saturday as part of the army’s winter exercise. — Indrajit GhoshA soldier controls traffic while his fellow looks on at Signboard in Dhaka on Dhaka-Chittagong Highway on Saturday as part of the army’s winter exercise. — Indrajit Ghosh

Almost all passenger buses operating on long routes stayed off the roads on Saturday fearing attacks despite the government’s assurance of security during the opposition’s ongoing rail-road-waterways blockade against the January 5 elections.
No major transport companies operating intercity buses on Dhaka-Chittagong, Dhaka-Khulna, Dhaka-Rajhahi and Dhaka-Rangpur routes ran their buses as the fifth spell of 83-hour blockade began Saturday after a day’s break for Friday, said bus operators.
Even buses of the state-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation did not operate on the highways during the blockade, according to a senior BRTC officer. 
Only a few buses ran on ‘trial basis’ on Dhaka-Mymensingh, Dhaka-Tangail and Dhaka-Comilla routes with police escort.  
‘We have not operated any buses from Gabtoli terminal since there are no such security measures on the routes to southern and northern districts. Moreover, there are hardly any passengers,’ Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners Association treasurer Mohammad Kamal Hossain told New Age.
The government on Wednesday asked transport operators to run their buses and trucks on all highways, defying the blockade being enforced by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led 18-party alliance in protest against the upcoming election.  
‘Passenger buses will operate on highways from Friday. The government will provide security for long-route transports during any blockade or strike,’ shipping minister Shajahan Khan, also a labour leader in the transport sector, said Wednesday after a meeting with the representatives of bus-truck owners and the law enforcement agencies.
No luxury buses left the capital’s Gabtoli, Mohakhali and Saidabad bus terminals and other points from where major companies including – Sohag Paribahan, Hanif Enterprise, Shyamoli Paribahan, TR Travels, Eagle Paribahan, Ena Transport, S Alam, Star Line, Soudia Paribahan and Green Line – operate.
‘How it is possible for police to guard our luxury coaches for 250 kilometres? Security of passengers and the expensive vehicles is a major concern during political violence,’ said a Sohag Paribahan official.
Transport operators at Gabtoli said that they were not willing to risk running their buses on highways amid political violence.  
Even some small companies like Ahmed Paribahan, Ara Paribahan, Falguni Paribahan, Crown Deluxe, Star Lit Classic, Shubarna Paribahan, JAR Enterprise, Rajbari Paribahan and AK Travels – did not run their buses on Chittagong, Khulna or any northern routes from Dhaka.
Mohakhali Bus Terminal Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity secretary general Mohammad Abdul Malek told New Age that till 7:00pm 21 buses had operated on Dhaka-Mymensingh route and four on Dhaka-Tangail route on the day out of 600 buses that usually operate on those routes daily.
Violence erupted immediately after the announcement of the schedules for the 10th parliamentary elections on November 25 with the opposition alliance enforcing a series of nationwide blockades protesting at the one- sided and demanding a non-party caretaker administration for free and fair polls. 
Over 100 people have been killed so far in the violence that also snapped inter-district road communications. Almost all passenger buses stayed off the highways during the blockades.
Around a dozen passenger buses were set on fire and several other vehicles, including trucks, were vandalised in Gaibandha while operating in police protection on the first day of the fifth spell of blockade.  Around 800 buses and trucks were burned and over 3,000 were vandalised during political violence in last one year, according to transport operators.
The shipping minister said security measures were already in place to ensure safety of transports and commuters during the political violence. 
The minister parried a query on whether the government would take the responsibility if any buses or passengers came under attack.
Over 1,000 goods-laden trucks were operating on Dhaka-Chittagong highway defying the blockade and police were providing them with security, Shajahan Khan said.

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