Shipping minister Shahjahan Khan on Monday said the government had failed to curb extortion in the transport sector due to intervention of the Jatiya Sangsad oversight body on communications ministry.
‘We have already controlled extortion in Dhaka. But, due to intervention of the parliamentary standing committee on communications ministry we have failed to curb extortion in the rest of the country,’ he told a rally of transport workers in the capital.
Truck and bus owners assembled thousands of workers from across the country at the rally at Central Shaheed Minar to press home an 11-point set of demands including putting an end to ‘bureaucratic steps and harassment by officials’ in issuing driving licences.
Shahjahan said some intellectuals including Muntassir Mamoon were propagating lies and they were persuading people to stand against the transport workers.
He said no driver wanted to kill any one and ‘an accident was an accident’ and urged all not to consider any driver as a ‘killer’.
In an apparent counter to the widespread criticism of reckless driving that regularly causes fatal accidents on highways, the drivers also demanded an end to filing cases, harassment in the name of vehicle requisition, and stopping toll collection at all the bridges including the Jamuna Bridge.
The transport workers played drums and carried banners and portraits of film actor Ilyas Kanchan with garlands of shoes hung on those in protest against Ilyas’ advocacy for safe roads.
Transport workers leaders at the rally threatened to launch a greater movement and even fast unto death, if their demands were not met by November 30.
Shipping minister Shahjahan Khan, chief guest of the rally, said his comment that ‘a driver who knows road signs and signals, can differentiate between a cow and a goat, and has good driving skills, can get a licence’ was based on a June 2000 gazette.
Showing the gazette to the gathering, Shahjahan, also executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, said, ‘I am asking those who were making propaganda against me and transport workers, to see this gazette’.
The gazette, he said, used pictures of cows, goats, and bullock cart, along with other traffic signs and signals that were international standard signs.
In an oblique reference to those who talk in favour of educated drivers, the Awami League leader said, ‘I want to ask about the qualifications of your drivers. Have they passed the driving licence test? Are they skilled?’
‘Educational qualification is not necessary for a driver to be skilful. Even prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s driver was not educated,’ Shahjahan said.
He also thanked Sheikh Hasina for taking a stance in favour of his own regarding the educational qualifications of drivers. ‘I want to assure you that she will never stand against transport workers as she loves workers,’ he declared.
Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Malik-Sramik Oikya Parishad convener Khandokar Anayetullah and member secretary Osman Ali, among others, also addressed the rally.